Yeah, well, so maybe his new partner was some kinda freak, but he knew his Chinese food.
It shouldn't have surprised him that the Canadian could speak Cantonese. What really surprised him though was just how popular he was. The place was a Mom and Pop type business, and Mom, who greeted them at the counter, hugged Fraser like a son. The Mountie even managed to hug her back, though Ray could see it didn't come that naturally to him.
The old woman's face must be aching, she was grinning so much.
Once the quick fire conversation was out of the way the two men were seated, at what looked like the best table in the joint.
"So, yeah... erh..." Ray was feeling a little bit lost, looking around for the menu. "So like, what we gonna have? What'd you recommend?"
"I enquired after the specials," Fraser said gravely, "but Mrs Lee says that they will cook us something from scratch."
"Yeah? What's it gonna be?"
"A surprise, apparently."
"A surprise? A delicious, nutritious, Chinese surprise?"
"That would be about the size of it, yes."
"Okay then..." Ray wasn't quite sure how he felt about a mystery menu, but he was willing to try anything once. "So, yeah, these guys know you?"
"Yes. Ray Vecchio, your predecessor... he and I worked on a case together in China town."
"Hey yeah..." Ray quirked a sardonic smile. "I read the notes on that. The FBI screwed up big time, didn't they?"
Fraser cleared his throat. "Well, it has to be admitted that they did somewhat complicate matters."
That was an understatement. "They blew up a firework factory!" Ray was trying not to laugh.
"Yes, that would be the nature of the complication."
"Are you always so, what's the word, so forgiving?" Ray could imagine that being a problem. He didn't mind good cop bad cop... he quite liked playing bad cop. But good cop insanely polite cop mightn't work out so good. It would freak the bad guys out for one thing... it kinda freaked him out. Problem being, it was like the guy was too good to be true. Nobody could be that nice. Like maybe Fraser was pulling a fast one, and taking the piss out of everybody, laughing his Canadian ass off behind their backs. Like maybe he had something to hide.
"They nearly cost you the case," he reminded his partner. "You know you could get pissed at 'em. It's the American Way. I mean like, you live here, embrace our culture."
Fraser smiled, and again Ray had the sneaking suspicion he was being laughed at. "Don't worry, it all worked out in the end."
Ray shook his head. Trust him to get landed with a partner who was a walking advertisement for courteous Canadian. "Yeah, whatever..." Food was arriving now, and Fraser turned and smiled at the guy, probably Pop, and started introductions... this time in English.
"Mr Lee, allow me to introduce you to my new partner... Ray, this is Henry Lee."
"Ray," the man said, after laying out the first course. "Your last partner was Ray also."
"Yeah," Ray felt himself bridle a little bit. Unfortunately nerves tied his tongue up. "It's a what do you call it, a coe in side, coe in see..."
"Coincidence. Yes, Mr Lee, it's a coincidence."
"Glad to meet you, Ray," Mr Lee proffered his hand. "A friend of Fraser's is a friend of mine, and of my family also."
"Yeah... thanks. Nice to meet you too."
"When you see the other Ray," Mr Lee was talking to Fraser again, "tell him I love his mother's lasagne... I swap recipes with her if she wants."
Well, that's weird, Ray thought. This Chinese guy was jonesing for lasagne? And he knew Ma Vecchio?
Mind you, he knew and loved Ma Vecchio, and if you were gonna get a hankering for lasagne, it might as well be hers.
"Yes Mr Lee, I'll be sure to pass that on." Fraser was smiling. "Thank you for the soup."
"Family secret," Mr Lee tapped his cheek in some kind of secret code, "you love it." He winked, nodded, and made his way over to other customers. Now that was really weird... like Cantonese wasn't foreign enough, now Fraser had some kinda secret food lovers' sign language going on?
Ray looked down at his soup, and raised an eyebrow, questioningly. It looked like... well, like glutinous water more than anything. Clear, almost translucent. He sniffed, suspiciously. "It don't look like much."
"Try it," Fraser was blowing delicately on the contents of his spoon. "You'll love it."
Ray took a dubious sip of the suspect looking liquid, and blinked with surprise. "Wow, this is delicious."
Fraser smiled. "I thought you'd like the food here."
"What you gonna do for a place to sleep tonight?"
"Well, I would have stayed with the Vecchios as an emergency measure, however, they are also temporarily homeless, so I have made my own arrangements."
Ray nodded, and scratched his chin. Ordinarily he would have offered his partner a couch to sleep on, but he didn't really know this guy yet.
Don't be a bastard, Kowalski, his inner voice told him, you might not know him yet, but he's still your partner... "Yeah, well," he reluctantly spoke up, "if you like you could stay over at my place..."
"No, thank you kindly Ray, that won't be necessary. I have already secured temporary accommodations."
Ray wasn't sure if he was relieved, or a little bit offended that he'd been turned down. He shrugged. "Fine by me." He glanced across at his colleague, who still looked insanely formal although no longer in red serge. How long had he been off duty now? Hours? Even when he wasn't in uniform you could peg him for a cop, just from the way he stood. Really, the guy could do with loosening up a little.
"Hey, thanks for dinner anyway, it was great."
"Yes, the Lees are excellent cooks."
"And you're like what, their golden boy?" Ray was still baffled at Fraser's warm welcome. Even the wolf was allowed in... and that despite the 'no dog' sign on the door. Of course, technically Dief wasn't a dog... but he couldn't imagine many establishments allowing a wolf in the door. Dief however took it all for granted, and snoozed under the table, only becoming alert when scraps seemed likely to come his way.
Fraser looked puzzled, and didn't respond to the 'golden boy' comment, and Ray shrugged it off. "So, I'll like, see you tomorrow?"
"Yes Ray. My shift starts at eight o'clock, I should be off by twelve."
"So, I'll meet you at the Consulate," he laughed, "like I need an excuse to get out of the squad room."
"See you then Ray."
Ray went one way, Fraser and Dief went the other.
Interesting evening, Ray thought. He still hadn't figured his new partner out completely, but he had learned a few things. He was liked in the communities he policed. He kept in touch with previous victims. Which meant that even though he was a weird cop, he was probably a good one too.
Yeah... he might be a freak, and Ray was gonna stay on his toes... but all in all, he quite liked the guy. Even if he was just too damn polite to live.
Fraser stood for a moment outside the derelict firework factory, and listened. He couldn't hear any other souls through its walls. He looked at Diefenbaker. "It's only for a while," he said, apologetically, "until we can get something more permanent sorted out." Dief looked at him with a trusting doggy smile. "Thanks Dief," Fraser was relieved. "I'm glad you understand."
He pushed the corrugated iron aside, and made his way through the broken wall. The floor crunched, and smelled damp. After all this time, two years in fact, it still smelled, faintly, of sulphur. As Ray had just pointed out, the FBI had completely messed this whole place up. However, even though long abandoned, none of the locals bothered to use it. Words did not seem to express quite how much they hated Charlie Wong. So, for a while at least, Fraser knew that it would a be discreet enough place to hide.
There were gaps in the ceiling, and stars shone clearly through the struts of what used to be the roof. Further in, however, was a dry area, underneath the stairs. For the most part the roof had held, and besides, the weather was fine.
"So, this is where we're going to live now, is it son?"
"We're not living anywhere," Fraser said pointedly, and dropped his bedroll under the stairwell. "I'm not even living here. I'm only staying till I get somewhere permanent."
"You know, this isn't what I had in mind for you. I never thought I'd say it, but this is even worse than your last apartment."
"It's not forever. And besides, it's no different from sleeping under the stars in the Yukon," Fraser kicked out his bedroll, valiantly attempting to appear unconcerned by his surroundings. "We've both been camping before."
"This isn't camping, Benny, this is squatting."
"It's wilderness survival. The only variant is that Chicago's a different kind of wilderness."
"I'll say." Bob Fraser snorted. "You can't live like this, son, not in a city. You're a Mountie, you're not supposed to be homeless. You have an image to maintain... how are you going to stay clean for a start?"
"I'll figure something out," Fraser was lying down now, with his arm covering his eyes.
"You'd better do it fast, I'm not building an office here."
"I don't even know what you're concerned about. It's not like it matters to you where you live... you're dead, you don't need a roof over your head."
"But you do. And frankly, I can see the sky through what is left of this roof."
"Good night, Dad."
"Son, listen to me, you can't live like this."
"I'm trying to sleep."
The old Mountie folded his arms and glared down at his son's recumbent form. It was obvious that the lad wasn't asleep, equally obvious that he didn't want to talk.
"Whatever you say son. But first thing tomorrow, I expect you to get this thing sorted out. It's just not acceptable for a Mountie to live like this."
"Okay Dad, fine. Tomorrow I'll find an apartment."
Bob Fraser stared at his son, and the wolf lying along side him. He addressed the wolf, gravely. "Keep an eye out for him, make sure he's safe."
The wolf lifted his head, and wafted his tale as though in affirmation.
The old ghost nodded, then, feeling his son's continued resistance, walked away, fading as he went.
Fraser felt his father leave, and rolled over to try and get comfortable. It took him a long time to sleep.
And even then, there were dreams.
Ray was psyched up in a good way as he made his way to the Canadian Consulate. Yeah, so it was all cool... he'd got the paper work done and dusted, and now he was bouncing down the road on the balls of his feet, on the way to see his new partner. Get a chance to see the guy on a normal day. Because today was... like it was a new day you know? And not every day could be as bat shit crazy as yesterday. So, maybe Dudley Do Right would be a bit more, what do you call it, a bit more like a normal guy. When his house wasn't burning down, and his car wasn't on fire, and he wasn't being shot at by the ugliest gangster's moll in the world. Ray grinned. Yeah, when you put it that way, no wonder the guy came across a bit funny. And then he'd just had his partner replaced by... well, yours truly. That must have been one hell of a weird homecoming.
He had a tune going through his head, and he couldn't quite place it. But it kept a kick in his step, and he was humming under his breath as he arrived at the Canadian Consulate.
Hey, that guy was real serious about keeping his appointments... Fraser was already outside, looking like he was standing at attention.
"Hey Fraser, what's up?" He stood in front of his partner, bouncing from side to side, eager to get going.
The guy just stood there.
"What, are you in a trance or something?" Wow, maybe the guy was like, epileptic, and he was having one of those, whaddaya call 'em, absinthe thingies... not absinthe, no... absence makes the heart grow fonder, seizures, that was it, seizures. "You having some kinda absence seizure or something? Hey... I'm talking to you..." He waved his hand in the Mountie's face, and there was no response at all. Great... He was just starting to run up the steps to alert the Canadians that one of their staff was having a fit on their doorstep when a voice came up from behind him.
"He's on sentry duty."
"Excuse me?" He turned round and stared at the two nuns, who were smiling at him from the bottom of the Consulate steps.
The oldest one spoke again. "The gentleman you're so concerned about. He's on sentry duty. He gets off at twelve." Ray looked at his watch. It was four minutes off the hour.
"Jesus Christ," he said, then bit his tongue. In front of the nuns, no less. "Sorry... I mean, like... what the hell? I mean..."
"It's all right son," the eldest nun had a twinkle in her eye. "I understand what you mean. It does seem a very odd duty."
"So, do you like, know him?"
"Oh yes, we came to thank him for all his help with the fund-raiser for the orphanage."
"He helped you with a fund-raiser?"
"Yes, before his holidays, he helped Father Behan put together a musical programme. And as for the piano recital, it truly was delightful."
Great, Ray thought, so he's not just a do gooder polite Canadian, he's a religious freak. Just what I need...
"Anyway, when your friend comes off duty, give him this." The elderly nun handed him an envelope.
"Why don't you just er, why don't you just put it in his pocket?"
The younger nun spoke up, and blushed. "I'm afraid that wouldn't be quite proper."
Ray smiled. Looked like the nun wasn't immune to Fraser's clean cut Canadian charm. "Yeah, all right then, I'll give it to him."
The nuns bobbed their thanks at him, ducked their heads and wove through the pedestrians, disappearing into the crowd. Ray nipped back down the steps, and took up his position opposite Fraser again. A grin crooked at the side of his mouth, and he chuckled. Something about this situation was really amusing. He knew it was childish, and other people must have tried before, but he really wanted to get a response out of the guy.
What am I gonna go for, he thought mischievously, there's gotta be something that'll make him jump?
With a wicked glint in his eyes he moved in sudden and swift, lips pursed as though for a kiss. Fraser's eyes widened in alarm, and he damned near flinched.
Ray was still laughing his ass off when the clock finally struck twelve, and Fraser stepped down from his shift.
This new partner of his was going to take some getting used to. As the clock struck Fraser allowed his face to relax into a neutral but friendly expression. He hoped at least to deny Ray the continued satisfaction of laughing at his expense, so decided not to betray the fact that the threatened peck on the cheek had taken him aback.
"So," Ray moved into position beside Fraser, still grinning, as the latter stepped onto the pavement and began walking purposefully onward. "It's your lunch hour, whatcha gonna do?"
"Well, I was planning on going to the library, to start looking for some permanent accommodations..."
"Yeah, well... real exciting."
"Excitement isn't always important. There are a lot of people homeless from this attack, it's my duty to try to help them."
"What? I thought you meant you were looking for yourself."
"Well, that too. But I have neighbours... well, I had neighbours. I have a duty to help them."
"All of them?" Ray laughed. "I don't think so."
Fraser shook his head. "It's my fault..." he pulled a face. "It's my fault they were there in the first place."
"What do you mean?"
Fraser sighed. "A while ago, our apartment block was bought out, we were nearly evicted. I persuaded people to stay and fight big business. And well, most of those people are homeless now. Because I made them stay."
"It's not your fault though, I mean, it's not like you coulda guessed you were gonna be the victim of arson."
Fraser shrugged, looking unconvinced.
"So anyway... you're looking for some place to stay. What about where you stayed yesterday?"
"It's acceptable, in the short term," Fraser said vaguely, "but ideally I need to find somewhere else..."
"So, like, what charity help is there for you guys? I checked into it, it's like a mini disaster fund or something... a lot of you have been given temporary, whada you call it, accommodation by the churches..."
"I don't want to take a bed when I already have a place to stay."
"All right, but it would get you on a waiting list."
"There are already enough people on that list."
Ray looked sideways at his new partner, catching an odd expression in his eyes. It was like he felt guilty, like he really believed it was his fault...
"Hey, you know you didn't burn the place down. It's not like it's you that did something wrong..."
"Well, technically no, but you have to admit that the building would not have been burned down if I didn't live in it."
"It's not your fault some arsonist decided to take it out on you."
For a fleeting second Fraser's expression twisted sourly. "My particular brand of bad luck appears to be somewhat contagious. Most people could go on holiday for a few months, without having their apartment block burned down by 'performance arsonists.' You have to admit, it all seems wildly improbable."
"Yeah, well, that's life. You can't predict wildly improbable bullshit, can you?"
"No," Fraser sighed, sounding almost bitter. "But you can be sure it usually follows me around."
Ray carried on walking, looking at his feet uncomfortably. "You know, you're blaming yourself for nothing. I mean, like, it's nobody's fault."
"Look, we're at the library, let's just shut up about who's fault it is, and see if we can find you some place to stay."
An hour later Ray was losing his temper.
"You know when you've got a number for a landlord?"
"And we call him up on my cell phone?"
"And you ask about whether pets are allowed?"
"How about you stop telling them that Diefenbaker's a wolf!"
"I'm not offering them the information that he's a wolf. Only when they ask what kind of pet I have..."
"Well then, when they ask, why don't you say something helpful, like... I dunno, anything instead of, 'meet Diefenbaker, he's my deaf, half husky half wolf hound from hell...'"
"Ray, I never said anything of the sort."
"You didn't have to. You know the word 'wolf'? It scares the shit out of everyone. Why can't you just say he's a dog? He's half dog after all. You're not prejudiced against dogs are you?"
"I don't think so. Are you prejudiced against wolves?"
"Fraser, do you listen to yourself? Anyone would think you didn't want to get a place of your own."
Fraser sighed and rubbed his head. "I'm sorry. I'm just tired."
"We're all tired, Fraser," Ray was fighting a headache, and fantasising about coffee... "Look, let's just sit down, while things are quiet, and figure out some good place for you to be. Okay? Cause, to be honest, you're looking a little bit rough today."
"Really?" Fraser sounded a little bit surprised. "I thought I'd done a good job of making myself presentable."
"Yeah, maybe, but if there's one thing I know, it's what a guy looks like when he's pulled an all nighter. You, my friend, look beat. So... I dunno what your landlord is like, but if you don't get a decent night's sleep tonight, he's gonna have to answer to me."
Fraser pulled a face, and looked shifty.
Ray looked at him, speculatively. Yeah, for sure the guy was hiding something.
"Listen, if you're happy enough where you are, why don't we leave finding apartments for another time?"
"Yes, I'd be grateful Ray," Fraser's whole body oozed relief. "I'm sure you have better things to do..."
"Well, you know where you were," he shrugged dismissively. "It was a slum anyway, I bet most of your neighbours are pleased to move on."
Fraser gave him a very disappointed look, and Ray felt shrinkingly small. He had only been trying to reassure him, but now he felt like he'd said completely the wrong thing. "Well, most of them would be glad anyway," he tried to amend. Fraser looked away, still with a lost expression on his face.
Come on, what did the guy want? It wasn't like it was Ray's fault the dump burned down.
Suddenly he had a brainwave. "Look, is there someone in particular you're feeling bad about? I mean, like someone you feel responsible for, like it's your job to protect them?"
Fraser looked up at him, hopefully. "Well, I feel guilty about all of them, to be honest... but there is one family..."
Margarita Gómez was waiting outside the school gates when she saw Fraser approaching her. In spite of the last few days, the worry and fright that was gnawing at her, she smiled. She couldn't help herself.
"Oh you dear," she said, "I was worried about you." Fraser was smiling his crooked smile, and he bent down into her hug. As they stepped back from it she brushed his serge uniform. "I always crinkle you, I'm sorry."
"Don't worry Mrs Gómez," he was still smiling. "May I introduce you to my new partner? Ray, this is Mrs Gómez, Mrs Gómez, this is Ray."
"You're also Ray?"
"Yeah, it's a what's its name, a coincidence."
"I'm Margarita. Lovely to meet you. A friend of Fraser's is a friend of mine."
"Yeah..." he scratched his head, flummoxed. "I hear that a lot. He's like the world's nicest guy."
"How are the children, Mrs Gómez? It must have been traumatic for them."
"Yes, we were lucky, we all got out." Her face crumpled a little, "but we lost everything in the fire. No..." she shook her head fiercely, correcting herself. "Not everything, of course not everything, we all got out, and that's the most important thing. But everything else...pictures, memories."
"I'm so sorry, Mrs Gómez. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"You can leave her alone," a sharp voice cut into the conversation, as another mother made herself known. "We all know what you're like. You come in here trying to help everybody, but you're nothing but a cop. And if it wasn't for you then we wouldn't have stayed in that dump, and we wouldn't be homeless now."
"Hey," Ray bristled at the woman's tone, "I read the file on that, Fraser did the right thing. That landlord was crooked, and he woulda got away with it if nobody stood up to him. So don't blame Fraser for bad luck. Okay lady? Shit happens."
"Ray," Fraser was making soothing gestures with his big hands. "Mrs Bailey has the right to her own opinion, and she has just been made homeless."
"We're all right," Mrs Gómez tried to calm the conversation down. "We have a place to sleep, and we're on waiting lists for an apartment."
"Yeah," Mrs Bailey pulled a face. "And you'll get yours before I do, because you've got four children." She looked contemptuously at Mrs Gómez. "Immigrants, come in and take all our resources."
"Mrs Bailey," Fraser cleared his throat. "It might behove you to remember that America is a nation of immigrants, and that as someone of Irish ancestry you might consider displaying a less aggressive racism when speaking to your neighbours."
The unpleasant woman flapped her jaws, and Ray tried hard not to laugh. Wow, the guy had a way with words... and yeah, sometimes it was irritating, and sometimes he envied it, but right now he wanted to give the man a gold star.
Fortunately at this juncture children started pouring out of the school gates. Mrs Bailey glared, muttered "damned cops," and moved through the milling bodies to her own five year old. Mrs Gómez brightened up and lifted a hand in welcome as a boy of about nine or ten ran to her, beaming with happiness. Ray remembered that feeling... school over, Mom at the gates, the promise of milk and cookies, the whole rest of the day stretching out before you.
He grinned. He found himself liking Margarita Gómez as much as he disliked Mrs Bailey.
"Hi, Fraser," the boy addressed the Mountie with easy familiarity. Fraser surprised Ray by grabbing the lad, swinging him three hundred and sixty degrees through the air, before depositing him in front of his mother. He removed his Stetson with a flourish, and dropped it on the boy's head. The kid was chuckling from under the brim, and tipped it backwards so he could look up at the man. "You back from your holiday now?"
"Yes, Mario, I got back just yesterday."
Ray and Fraser fell into step with each other as they started to make their way along the sidewalk with Mrs Gómez.
"That was bad luck," Mario said, "coming back from holiday and the building burns down." The boy was looking solemn now, gigantic Stetson notwithstanding. "It was awful." He looked at his mother, and with the naïve cynicism of childhood stated "and I think I should have had the day off school..." Ray tried not to laugh. Trust a kid to use a genuine trauma as an excuse to get out of homework.
"You know that you all need to go to school," his mother said, with that weary 'we've had this argument before' voice that Ray remembered from his own mother. "No excuses. I want you to do well in school. Besides, it gave me a chance to look for an apartment."
"You found anything Momma?"
"Not yet," she sighed. "But I'm looking."
"What about you, Fraser," the boy asked hopefully.
"I've got a temporary place."
"Do you think we could stay?"
"There's not many... facilities. I don't think it's suited for children."
Mario pulled a face. "I don't like where we are, it's all bunk beds, and it smells of cabbages and pee."
"Well, it's true Momma..."
They came to a halt outside an old, red bricked church. Ray looked at it quizzically. "Is this it?"
"Yes," Mrs Gómez tried not to sigh, and failed. "This is home for the time being." Then she smiled. "And here come my other babies."
Mario looked up at Ray, and shrugged. "They go to big school, and she calls them her babies. What hope is there for me?"
Ray barked out a laugh. The kid was impossible not to like.
Fraser smiled, and retrieved his hat. "Mrs Gómez," he said, fixing it securely to his head, "if you need any help, please let me know at the Canadian Consulate." He frowned for a brief moment. "The address has changed, so I'll give you my card..."
"Can we come and see where you're living now Fraser," the younger of the girls asked. "There's no warm water, you wouldn't mind if we borrowed your bathroom?"
"Uhm... well, I'm sorry Maria, but to be honest, the plumbing isn't working where I am either..."
Ray creased his brow. What was it with this guy? He was being pretty secretive about where he was living... Maybe he had a girlfriend.
"Thank you," Mrs Gómez shushed her daughter, and smiled at Fraser, taking his card. "Don't worry dear, I know I can ask you for help if I need it."
"Good," Fraser looked relieved. "I'm glad."
The rest of the day was taken up with small duties. Following up on phone calls about minor thefts, noise pollution, petty vandalism. At one point Fraser went tearing through traffic, bouncing over hoods and dodging taxis and motorbikes, looking like he was trying to kill himself... all to catch up with a bag snatcher. When he returned the bag to its owner she promptly hit him with it, under the mistaken assumption that he was the thief. He tipped his hat, thanked her kindly, and kept on walking.
"Don't these people ever piss you off? I mean, it would piss me off. You break your balls trying to help everybody, and they don't give a damn."
"Well, sometimes I find it rather discouraging, but on balance, it works out."
"Yeah..." Ray was beginning to think that his partner really was a freak.
"I have to do some paperwork," Fraser said, as they stood outside the Consulate. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Yes, twelve o'clock."
"Will you be doing sentry duty?"
"Probably." Fraser had a regretful expression on his face which suggested more eloquently than words just how much he didn't like sentry duty.
"Yeah, well, I'll try not to kiss you," Ray waggled his eyebrows suggestively. Fraser responded with what could, conceivably, be a threatening look, and Ray backed off, hands in the air, still laughing. "Seriously buddy, I'll be good. It's not like I want to start a war with Canada or anything." Fraser nodded, and began to push his way through the Consulate doors. "Oh yeah..." Ray remembered. "I forgot, the nuns gave you this."
Fraser looked at the envelope, and smiled, tucking it into his pocket. "Thank you kindly, Ray," he said, and finally disappeared into the building.
Ray rolled his shoulders, pondering life's improbables, mainly his really strange partner, and made his way home.
Fraser was standing at the sink in his vest and underpants when Constable Turnbull walked in.
"Ah, I found you. Constable Fraser, I wanted to ask you about the seating arrangements for... for..."
Turnbull stuttered to a stop, and Fraser grabbed his clothes before stumbling awkwardly backward into one of the stalls and slamming the door.
"Are you... I mean, what... are you quite all right Constable Fraser?"
"Yes, yes..." Fraser was rapidly pulling on his civvies, trying not to blush too much. Constable Turnbull must think that he was a complete fool... Honestly though, he had thought he was safe. Most people had gone home for the day, and he had simply taken the opportunity to clean himself up while he still could. Living in a burned out factory made for some interesting challenges, not least of which was how to manage one's cleaning habits.
And he'd only been living in it for twenty four hours... As he'd said to his father, Chicago was a completely different kind of wilderness.
"I mean to say, I hope I wasn't intruding..."
"Not at all, Constable Turnbull, I was simply... well, I was availing myself of some hot water. My... my accommodations... well, they're only temporary, but well... the plumbing leaves something to be desired."
"Ah... I understand." Good Lord, it sounded as though the man actually did. "I was sorry to hear about your apartment... has the Inspector given you leave to seek a more permanent home?"
"I've used up all my leave..."
"That seems hardly fair." It was unlike Turnbull to disagree with authority, but when he did voice disapproval it was always stated in the most moral of terms. "You didn't take leave in order to pursue a holiday. You were ordered to take time off, and even despite that chose to use your time serving Canada..."
"Well, thank you Constable Turnbull, but the fact remains that my leave is all used up. So, Inspector Thatcher is quite within her rights to expect me at work."
"Even in the middle of a personal crisis?"
"It's hardly a crisis," Fraser stepped out of the toilet cubicle, fully dressed, and having regained his composure. "It's simply an inconvenience. But your concern is much appreciated." He was actually touched. Turnbull was the first person at the Consulate to even acknowledge Fraser's current difficulties.
"You're welcome," Turnbull cleared his throat, embarrassed. "Uhm... if you don't mind? I was wondering if we could look over the seating arrangements?
Frankly, he was lost.
Fraser sat on the bedroll, legs crossed, with his Stetson over his knees, turning it and turning it by the brim. The envelope that the nuns had left with him was open, and across his lap was unfolded a child's picture of a Mountie, with "thank you" and "Erin" scrawled in red crayon, followed by three crosses and a heart.
He didn't even have a wall to hang it on.
"What am I doing here Dief?" The wolf looked at him impassively, leaving him none the wiser. Fraser closed his eyes, and rubbed his hand over his forehead. He felt like... well, like a river that had been dynamited for fish. An explosion had gone off when he wasn't looking, and now everything was churned and roiling. He was torn up, turned inside out, floating dead in the water.
He was sure life wasn't supposed to be this hard.
He had found as much work as possible in order to delay the moment when he had to leave the Consulate. The inevitability of this particular homecoming had been hanging over him all day, and now that he was here, sitting in the corner of a charcoal cavern, he realised that the thought of tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that was more than he could bear.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow moves in this petty pace from day to day, and all our yesterdays...
Shut up, he snarled at the verse, rapping his knuckles against his forehead, as though he could dislodge the inner voice. Stop feeling sorry for yourself... Then, slightly calmer he reasoned, this isn't forever. It's only temporary, just until I get settled...
He peered up through the gaps in the roof, looking at the stars, fogged out and smudged by the city. It was hard even to recognise the constellations through the pollution. He sighed, and his breath rose, an expanding cloud against the chilly air. It was cold for summer, he thought. Not Territories cold, but cold. And it seemed like a long time since Fraser had felt warm.
Finally he moved back into his nest under the ruined staircase and lay down. His eyes stung, but he kept them open. Looking at Dief, looking across the rubble, for potential threats. Late night drug users or prostitutes. He had found no evidence that this place was used for such transactions, but he was still acutely aware that he was under nobody's shelter now.
He couldn't imagine how he would start to look for somewhere permanent, couldn't imagine asking for help, couldn't imagine having the energy to spare on himself. He recognised that in someone else these symptoms might be considered depression, but honestly, all he felt was tired.
Close your eyes, dear...
He blinked at the 'not memory'. This wasn't a ghost, she didn't trouble him like his father did. But sometimes, just sometimes, he could hear her voice. She lived in his secret places, hidden for the most part, but never too far away. If he could only access her, if only he didn't flinch at the thought of her...
But she was there, all the same, part of him still.
He closed his eyes to his mother's voice, and slept.
Ray was humming as he walked toward the Canadian Consulate, flicking his hands to the rhythm in an attempt to banish his jitters. "First kick I took was when I hit the ground..." Damn, he couldn't get that tune out of his head. He didn't even like it... Something by Abba, maybe... Nah, Springsteen was king today. He wasn't getting that riff out of his head.
Fraser had already finished his shift, and walked up to him with that affable smile. "Good afternoon Ray, I trust you've had a productive day at work?"
"Yeah well, if you call answering the phone all day productive. You know, you think when you become a cop that it's gonna be all good guys and bad guys, you know? Cops and robbers, whatever... but you end up spending all the time on the phone talking to little old ladies who are scared of their own shadows."
"Reassuring the public is of value in itself, Ray."
"Yeah well, the public should grow a pair, I'm sick of 'em."
"You don't really mean that do you, Ray?"
"Yeah, yeah I mean it... I mean look at you, what you do all day. Stand around like a store front dummy getting pins and needles or a numb butt or something. Tell me you're not sick of that."
Fraser didn't say anything, but he didn't say it with such significance that Ray laughed, and slapped him on the back. "See? I knew you knew what I meant."
"You know, sentry duties are not all I do, Ray..."
"Yeah, but you hate it. Go on, admit it..."
Fraser opened his mouth to make a comment, then froze. Ray followed the direction of his gaze, and put his hand on Fraser's arm.
"Hey, isn't that..."
"Yes, yes it is..."
The figure was running, desperate. Fraser launched himself after it, Ray just seconds behind.
Across two lanes, dodging traffic, down a long alley, round a corner.
And as they make that turn they see the man she has been fleeing from, standing large above her, fist raised.
It doesn't dawn on Ray at the time, though it does later, that Fraser gives no warning. He does not identify himself as a police officer, he does not offer the man a chance to surrender. He simply hurls himself through the air, body tackling the guy to the floor. They slap against the concrete and the dirt, and the air goes out of the guy with a woof sound, and Fraser is kneeling on top of him, tying his wrists together with his lanyard. Ray is moving toward Margarita, who is cowering still, hiding her face with her arms.
"Hey, hey..." Ray is trying to breathe, to calm down. Margarita is sobbing now, and he puts his arms around her. "Hey, it's all right, we got him, we got him, you're okay. You're okay..."
He turns to see how Fraser's doing, and for the first time sees him, really sees him. Not the polite super Mountie, not the courteous Canadian with the excellent grammar and vocabulary. He's hauled the guy to his feet, has him up against the wall, is checking him for weapons. The prisoner is shaking in his boots (yeah, shake bad guy, shake) and Fraser is grinning, white faced, and glitter eyed, and fierce.
Ray sees it, and he recognises it. He tosses it back at him, feral smile, shows him his teeth.
Fraser catches his look, realises that he's been seen, and snaps his mask back on. Mountie mask.
Too late, buddy, Ray thinks.
Margarita was still trembling, but beginning to calm down when Elaine brought her a cup of coffee.
"I'm sorry," she apologised for the hundredth time. "I didn't mean to be any trouble."
"You're not any trouble, Mrs Gómez," Fraser was sitting opposite her, holding her hands between his own, calm and reassuring. "You have nothing to apologise for. Anyone can be the victim of a crime."
"It's not a... it's not really a crime..."
Fraser shook his head, and patted her hands before releasing them so that she could help herself to coffee. "It is a crime. No matter what the circumstances, that man had no right to assault you."
"Assault..." she whispered the word, and covered her face. "No, no, it was not an assault..."
"Yeah? What was it then?" As soon as he spoke Ray realised he had messed up. She had read his anger with the assailant as hostility toward herself. Ray cast a despairing glance at Fraser, then looked back to Margarita. It was too late. She had already frozen behind her hands, had even stopped breathing for a moment. "Hey... I'm sorry." He softened his tone, and dropped his spikiness. Please God she'd notice. "I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to... you know, I didn't mean to shout."
"It's all right detective," she said in a dead voice. "Everything is all right."
It was obvious that nothing was right, but Margarita wasn't talking.
Ray was slumped at his station, with his head on the desk. He'd stayed on for hours past his shift, trying to drown himself in work, and he'd about come to the end of his tether. He grumbled to himself, then hooked his hands behind his neck, worked his fingers in, tenderising the muscles. He had to stop that damn headache before it started.
"Ray," Elaine's voice was gentle, but adamant. "The Lieutenant wants to see you." He lifted a hand, signalled a 'yeah, listening' with it, before dropping it back onto the knotted rope of his spine. Elaine paused, then cleared her throat. "I'm sorry Ray... he says now."
"Yeah, I'm coming." He pushed the chair back, and lounged out of it. He had spent the whole day feeling stupid. If Welsh was going to chew him out it couldn't be any worse than what he was doing to himself.
"Detective... Vecchio..." there was that subliminal pause as Welsh spoke his cover name, and as usual Ray felt a slight shiftiness in the pit of his stomach. He had his reasons for this assignment... one of which was the fresh start, the chance to remake himself. But right now he was just feeling stupid, and stranded, and like the world's worst cop. "We need to talk about the Gómez case," Welsh confirmed his worst fears. "There has been some talk of intimidation."
"I'm sorry Sir, I didn't mean to be intimidating... it just kind of happened..."
"Not you," Welsh assessed him with a slightly puzzled look. "Constable Fraser."
"Constable Fraser? He didn't intimidate her..."
"Not the woman either. The prisoner."
"The prisoner? That scum bag?"
"That scum bag is lawyered up."
Ray did a double take, and blinked. "Already?" Ray had been hoping the guy would have to sit in the cells overnight, stew in his own juices. The piece of shit hadn't even given his name at processing, been belligerent and uncommunicative as hell, so how had he been assigned a lawyer so soon? "What idiot got him a lawyer?"
"He got him a lawyer. Turns out he's a fancy schmancy doctor. Soon as he got to the phone he called someone, probably one of his golfing buddies, and between the two of them they concocted some story about Constable Fraser using excessive force. If it was any of my detectives, I might have believed it, but not Fraser."
Ray's lack of response lasted for just a fraction too long, and drew Welsh's attention.
"Detective? Is there something you want to tell me?"
"No, no Sir, not at all."
"Do you mind telling me what exactly did happen in the alley?"
"Well, we arrived in the alley just after the scumba... the prisoner. Just after the prisoner, Sir. Mrs Gómez was standing with her back to the wall and her hands... well, like this..." Ray portrayed Margarita's cringe, throwing his hands up over his head, "and the guy, well... he was like this..." Ray straightened up, and stepped into fighting stance, raising his fist to Welsh's face.
"So, you came around the corner, and you saw a man standing in front of a woman, neither of them actually touching each other?"
"Well... yes, I suppose... yes, if you put it like that... Yes."
"So, in fact, you saw nothing."
"No, we did see... well, I mean, he did look like he was threatening her."
"So, you clearly identified yourself as police officers, and warned him of the consequences should he not stand down?"
"Uhm... no, Sir. No, we didn't... there wasn't time."
"No? Why wasn't there time, Detective?"
"Well, Constable Fraser took down the suspect..."
"Took down the suspect? Was the suspect armed?"
"No, but we didn't realise that at the time..."
"So the suspect was unarmed?"
"Was the suspect in physical contact with Mrs Gómez?"
"Not as far as we could see... but it was all really fast, and we thought..."
"You thought what, Detective? That he was South American and standing aggressively?"
"Sir, you weren't there. It wasn't like that. She was terrified."
Welsh looked at him, not unsympathetically. "Look, I need you to know that I believe you. I'm sure you made the right call, under the circumstances. But the fact remains, this guy has a real good lawyer, and they're gunning for Fraser. So, leave whatever paper work you have, and get on down to the Consulate. Find out where Fraser's staying, and tell him what's going on. Because he's going to need all his wits about him tomorrow when Doctor Gómez and his lawyer come calling."
"Yeah... He's Margarita's ex husband. His lawyer claims that you misunderstood an innocent interaction between the couple, and that the RCMP and Chicago PD are institutionally racist."
"Great." Ray looked up at the ceiling, and blew out an angry breath. It didn't help matters that the guy's lawyer had a point... Okay, so he wasn't racist, and he was damned sure Fraser wasn't... but institutions as a whole...
Yeah... this could have a really bad spin to it.
"Okay, Sir. I'll go and find the Mountie."
"Good lad." Welsh walked him to the door, putting a reassuring hand on his back. "Don't worry, we'll get this all squared up. Okay?"
"Thank you, Sir." Wow, he was sick of saying 'sir'. Must be Fraser rubbing off on him.
"I'll see you first thing in the morning."
Welsh nodded, scratching his chin. Ray bobbed through the door, shoved his hands deep in his pockets, and began to walk as fast as he could to the Canadian Consulate.
Ninety odd blocks... damn, he needed to replace Vecchio's car.
It was after hours, but the Consulate lights were still on. Ray banged on the door, jigging on the top step. "Come on, come on, come on," he called, "Hey, big bad wolf here. I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down. Come on Canadians..." Behind the wood he could hear footsteps, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
"Good evening Detective," Turnbull was standing in the doorway.
"Oh, it's you." Anyone else would have been offended, but Turnbull seemed completely immune to it. "What you doing at work so late?" Turnbull opened his mouth to explain, but Ray brushed him off. "Hey, never mind. So... do you know were Super Mountie is?"
"You mean Constable Fraser?"
"Yeah, I mean Constable Fraser. Unless you know anyone else who runs into burning buildings at the drop of a hat."
"Well, there is the fire department..."
"Fraser, do you know where Fraser is?"
"No, I'm afraid I don't."
"So, you got his address?"
"His... address?" Turnbull blinked.
"Yeah, his address, you know, that place where he lives."
"I'm afraid we... no, we don't have his address."
"You don't have his address? What are you, morons? He works for you guys. You must have his address."
Turnbull scratched his nose, and Ray couldn't figure out if he was being deliberately unhelpful, or merely stupid. "I'm afraid I can't confirm or deny where or whether Constable Fraser is... well, oh dear."
"I gotta get hold of him."
"Yeah now, what do you think I'm doing here?"
"Is the Constable in trouble?"
"He might be..."
"Oh dear..." Turnbull seemed completely torn.
"Look, if you have any idea where he might be?"
"I might have an idea, but I don't think he'll like it if I..."
"Look, I don't care who's couch he's crashing on, I don't care if Thatcher's got him tucked away in her closet, I really gotta see him."
"I can confirm that he is not stashed away in the Inspector's closet."
"Yeah well, that's a shame for him. So come on, spit it out, do you know where he is?"
Turnbull came to a decision. "I may be wrong, but I think that we can find him."
"We're tracking soya sauce?"
"Yes... and charcoal, and... I think the smell was gunpowder."
"Wow, you got a super nose or something. Is that like a Canadian super power or something?" Turnbull looked confused. "I mean, do you do that a lot in Canada? Sniff your colleagues?"
"Ah," Turnbull acknowledged the comment, but smiled, letting the jibe slide off his back. "No. No, we don't sniff our colleagues." Ray smirked. The guy was proving surprisingly resourceful, but Ray still found it hard to take him seriously. Which was probably unfair, but first impressions... well, second and third impressions come to that...
"So, we're in China town, what does that tell us?"
"Well, I imagine that Constable Fraser is staying somewhere nearby..."
"Oh right!" Ray sighed with relief. "I know where he's staying."
"Yeah... with his friends at the restaurant."
"Uhm..." Turnbull looked doubtful.
"You don't think so?"
"No... they'd have running water."
"Yeah, yeah... so they would."
Turnbull stood outside the Lee's restaurant, and turned in a full circle, trying to take in the neighbourhood.
"Hey, you said gunpowder?"
"So... wasn't there a firework factory near here?"
"Ah, yes. Yes that way..."
Ray followed the direction of Turnbull's gaze, and started to jog down the road.
Fraser was sitting with his back against an empty storage box, with the book open on his knee. He stretched out his legs, and shut his eyes. It was too dark to continue reading, and besides, he knew the contents of his father's journal practically off by heart. Even so, he was feeling far less discouraged since unpacking them earlier today. By some lucky chance he had decided to store them at the Consulate rather than his apartment when he went on his "holiday", so at least he hadn't lost everything in the fire.
Hmm. Mrs Gómez, he thought. She had more to lose than he had, and he was beginning to realise just how much she had already lost. That man... and everything about her body language. When he first met her she had appeared so beaten, so tired. The authorities had come after her children, and rather than fight for them in court she planned to run... and keep on running. It was as though she'd had the fight knocked out of her, and all that she had left was her maternal instinct, and her flight response.
Now he knew how she'd got that way. The man looked like the children... like Mario in particular. He wondered how it must feel for Mrs Gómez to see a man who looked so much like someone she loved standing above her with a fist, and violence in his eyes.
Well, she must have loved him once. Perhaps that was why she didn't talk. That, or more likely that she wanted to protect her children. From everything, from their father, even from the knowledge of what the man was like.
After the failed interview he had walked her home, collected the children from their schools (much to their delight) and been surrounded by well wishers at the temporary shelter. His ex neighbours were for the most part glad to see him, though Mrs Bailey looked as sour as ever. Various of the refugees from the fire had begun to make their own arrangements, and he found himself drawn into packing crates, loading boxes, and being hugged goodbye.
Fraser rubbed his thumb along his brow thoughtfully. It had become apparent that the neighbours with children, particularly the single mothers, were having more trouble finding homes than anyone else. If they were Canadian of course he could offer them support through the Consulate, but perhaps if he asked for help at the station house...
Dief lifted his head, sensing something before Fraser heard it. Movement... he could hear footsteps crunching across the floor. Two people, probably men from the sound of their steps, one taller than the other.
Very quietly Fraser laid down his father's journal. As smooth as a shadow he rose from his sitting position, and prepared to defend himself. He realised that the men might be perfectly harmless... to him at least. Perhaps drug users, or they might be looking for privacy for completely unrelated reasons. But if he waited till they engaged in whatever activity they had come for then... well, they could be justifiably annoyed to discover a witness. At the same time he didn't want to identify himself in case they were some sort of a threat. He paused, wondering if he should just slip out of the building via another route.
The tension left his shoulders. "Ray?"
"Fraser, what are you, nuts?"
Oh dear, he thought. As he stepped out of his cover he was thankful for the dark. Nobody would see him blushing.
"What the hell are you doing in this dump?"
"Well," he said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, "I was trying to read..."
"Read? You must have eyes like a bat."
"Bats are blind, Ray."
"Yeah yeah, whatever..." Ray was standing right in front of him, followed by Constable Turnbull. "Jeez, I can't believe you picked this dump to live in." He shook his head, like a horse trying to dislodge flies. "I mean... what were you thinking?"
"I'm sorry, Constable Fraser." Turnbull sounded truly repentant. "I'm really sorry, but he needed to talk to you about something urgent."
"Yeah..." Ray seemed to be making an effort to return to the matter at hand. "We got problems. That guy we arrested earlier today..."
"Yeah... hang on, you know him?"
"No. I just assumed a prior relationship between himself and Mrs Gómez based on the circumstances."
"Uh... yeah." Ray seemed puzzled by Fraser's deduction. "I mean... he's Dr Gómez, but other than that... yeah, he's her ex husband. How did you know?"
"It doesn't really matter... it was a hunch."
"You get hunches?" Now Ray sounded really confused. "I thought that was against the Mountie code..."
"What's the problem, Ray?"
"Oh yeah. Well, uh, it seems this Gómez has made a complaint against you for police brutality or something. We need to get our stories straight..."
"What 'stories', Ray? All we need to do is tell them what happened."
"Yeah, well, actually what happened doesn't sound so good, not when you look at it from their point of view."
Fraser raised his eyebrows. "Really?"
"Yeah... it sounds bad, Fraser. Cause we didn't warn him, and he was like, you know, he hadn't actually touched her or nothing."
"Oh." Fraser felt a little flat. "I hadn't thought of that."
"Yeah, well you see what the problem is. The Lieutenant wants to see you in the morning."
"Thank you, Ray. I'll be there."
"Listen, Fraser... you can't... you know, you can't stay here."
"Why not? It's shelter."
"I can see the sky!"
"Well, I don't sleep here, exactly... I was reading by moonlight. I sleep elsewhere."
"In this dump though, you're sleeping somewhere in this dump?"
"Well, yes," Fraser was determined to make it sound like a normal choice. "It doesn't actually harm anybody and..."
"Constable Fraser," Turnbull suddenly interrupted. "I hope you don't mind my suggesting an alternative arrangement?"
Fraser sighed in irritation. He knew the man had behaved responsibly, but he couldn't help feeling foolish having had his private arrangements exposed in this way. "Yes, Constable Turnbull?"
"Perhaps you could stay at the Consulate?"
There was a long silence. Then...
"Yes, Sir," Turnbull sounded quite eager now. "After all, we do provide shelter for Canadian citizens, and you are a Canadian citizen."
Why on earth hadn't Fraser thought of that?
"Won't the Inspector mind?"
"Hey, who cares about the Inspector? She's not the one sleeping in a burned out abandoned shit heap." Fraser found himself smiling despite the profanity. One thing that this Ray had in common with his predecessor was a complete refusal to beat about the bush. "So get your stuff together and move out of here."
"Yes, Sir," Turnbull added, smiling. "You can stay in Canada tonight. You'll be much more comfortable there."
"It has to be said, that does sound like a considerable improvement..."
"Yeah great, so come on. Shake your Canadian butt. I'll fill you on on this Gómez nut job on the way."
It was with great relief that Fraser gathered his few belongings together and left the factory behind. Inspector Thatcher mightn't be best pleased, but he would deal with that in the morning.
Inspector Thatcher was not pleased at all.
"Not only do I arrive at work to discover that my second in command has decided to squat in Consulate, I find that he's also been accused of beating up South Americans because they look foreign."
"That's not at all what happened, Sir," Fraser tried to explain himself, but was instantly interrupted.
"I'm not interested in explanations, I want solutions, Constable."
"Well, Sir, I haven't yet had an opportunity to speak to Dr Gómez' lawyer, and I'm sure that when I do..."
"When exactly are you supposed to be meeting him?"
"I haven't yet been informed of a meeting..."
"Well, you'd better get on with it then, hadn't you?"
"How long are you planning on living in the Consulate?"
"Well, I haven't really had an opportunity yet to look for accommodation..."
She gave him the 'look', then rolled her eyes. "Oh, for heaven's sake. I suppose you can stay here... but don't get too comfortable. I don't want you sleeping in one of the suites or we'll never get rid of you."
"I'm perfectly happy to sleep in my office."
"Well," she softened a little. "Well, I suppose that will do. So long as you're discreet and don't run around in your underwear."
Fraser scratched his face, puzzled. "Why would I run around in my underwear?"
"Why? Did I say underwear?" She began to back pedal, fiercely. "I meant pyjamas. I mean... Oh, never mind. Just sort out this mess before the whole world hears that the Consulate has it in for South Americans."
"Thank you, Sir." Fraser practically ran out of the room.
She looked at the door as it fell shut behind him, and shook her head. He was hardly back five minutes. Trouble stuck to that man like a tattoo. He was impossible. An impossible man.
She sighed. She supposed that she should arrange for a psychiatric review. It would take a few weeks to come through, and he might have calmed down by then. But in the mean time...
Oh damn it, she thought. I'm supposed to be working, and I'm thinking about Constable Fraser instead. Why did that man to this to her, every time?
"Constable, you're here." Lieutenant Welsh met him in the bullpen, and put his hand between his shoulders, propelling him toward his office. "You're in luck... or out of it, I don't know. Dr Gómez is here with his lawyer."
"Ah," Fraser chewed his inner cheek. "Thank you for the warning."
"Think nothing of it. Just... brace yourself."
This proved to be good advice. No sooner was Fraser in the door than Dr Gómez was in his face, shouting.
"Not so tough now, are you? Bet you thought you could just push me around, didn't think I might be somebody, just thought I was some South American punk, didn't you..."
"Actually, no. I thought you were a bully about to beat up a woman half his size. I gave no consideration as to your ethnicity." Fraser was not about to be intimidated, and spoke as calmly and firmly as Doctor Gómez shouted.
"Rafael," the doctor's lawyer inserted himself gently between his client and the Mountie. "Please don't get upset. We're here to get this mess straightened out."
"I've told you what I want," the doctor was still glaring at Fraser. "I want an apology from this guy for beating me up, and I want an apology from this guy's partner for arresting me when I hadn't done a thing."
"Well, Constable," Welsh gave Fraser a quizzical look. "Are you going to apologise?"
Fraser looked at Dr Gómez, and flashed again on yesterday. The man had been an inch away from smashing Margarita in the face. His jaw hardened. "No. No, I am not going to apologise. This man knows exactly what he has done to his victim, and he knows exactly what he was going to do. I will not apologise for having prevented a crime."
"Is that your final word, Constable?" Welsh was sounding dispassionate, but had the trace of a smile on his lips.
"Yes, Sir. That's my final word."
"Well," the lawyer spoke up. "That's a real pity, because we're going to sue you for assault, discrimination, and actual bodily harm."
"Actual bodily harm?"
"Your Constable caused injury to my client after he had knocked him to the floor. He knelt on his abdomen and beat him with his fists..."
"Excuse me?" Fraser felt his eyebrows shoot up with surprise. "That's a lie..."
"Says you and your cop friend," the doctor sneered. "We'll see who the court believes."
"Bearing false witness is perjury," Fraser pointed out to the lawyer. "It's an actual crime. If you encourage your client to lie on the stand..."
"It's not a lie," the doctor snarled, lying. "It's what happened."
The Lieutenant cleared his throat. "I must point out to you that absolutely nobody who has met Constable Fraser will ever believe that particular story."
"Nobody in the jury will ever have met Constable Fraser, so that won't be a problem. And I think I can make a good case," the lawyer smiled. "Constable Fraser has obviously been under stress... his apartment just burned to the ground. He's demonstrated erratic behaviour in the past, he is known to be an extremely... how can I put this... 'odd' personality. And the jury eat that kind of thing up."
Fraser stared ahead, impassive.
"Last chance. You sign this document accepting responsibility and offering to pay restitution, and this all goes away."
"I apologise for the inconvenience," Fraser hid his sarcasm poorly, "but I can't possibly lie."
"All right then." The lawyer gave a glance to his client, and made to leave the room. "We'll see you in court."
"See you in hell more like," Welsh grumbled as the door shut behind the two men. He turned to look at Fraser, then gestured expansively. "Where the hell's Kowalski?"
"You mean Ray Vecchio?"
"You know who I mean."
"Yes, Sir. But no, I don't know where he is."
"Well, he'd better have a damn good excuse to be late."
Ray had a great excuse to be late.
"Stella, thanks... I really do owe you for this one."
"Yeah, yeah." She sounded tired on the other end of the phone, and it tugged at his heart, knowing that he was the cause of her fatigue. She had been up all night checking into this Gómez character for him. "Look," she said, "I'm only helping you because I know about battered women, and I know what you're like, you'll do everything you can to help her. But just... don't get any ideas."
"Don't worry, I won't get any..." his voice dried up. He couldn't help it. He still had ideas. "I mean, you know... just thanks for finding all this out for me."
"You're welcome, hon..." she stopped herself. It was as though she forgot sometimes how to speak to him. "You're welcome, Ray," she corrected herself.
"You're a life saver," he said, trying to extend the conversation.
"Yeah, well, I need to go to work now."
"Okay... bye, Stella."
"Bye, Ray." Click, the phone went dead. Ray looked at it and sighed. Time was they couldn't hang up the phone on each other, if you paid them. That whole teenage thing of 'you hang up,' 'no, you hang up,' had lasted into adulthood. Sadly, he replaced the phone in its cradle, and stood.
He fed his turtle, gulped down his coffee, thought about cigarettes and chewed gum instead.
Greatness, he thought, bitterly. My life is just greatness... my closest friend is a turtle, and I've been with my new partner for what, less than a week, and we're already being sued.
He glanced at the clock, and jumped. "You're kidding... is that the time?"
He ran down the stairs two at a time. Welsh was gonna kill him.
Margarita's heart was in her throat as she walked Mario to school. The older children went with their friends, but it was Mario she was most scared for.
The last couple of years she had been free of Rafael. She asked for nothing in their divorce, apart from the children, just wanting out. And he, for his part, had not wanted the details of their marriage aired in public. His circle of friends, lawyers, and doctors, and politicians... they just saw her as a mistake he had made. It was obvious that they thought he had married beneath him. Not only had he married a nurse, he'd married a girl from a slum. Her English was never as good as his, she never fitted in with their wining and dining. Never was able to get on with their wives. Vapid and languid creatures, talking endlessly about manicures and the latest fashion.
He was the kind of man who only made friends with other men, and the men he was friends with... She shuddered. For a long time she had put up with it, put up with them, reasoning that she was providing her children with all those things she had missed as a child. A fine education, the best opportunities, life in America.
Her children never had to walk barefoot over rocks and dirt. They didn't have to live in a shanty town, in a corrugated iron hut.
So, she tolerated it. Put up with him just taking her in the middle of the night whether she was awake or not. Tolerated him laughing at her, and making her look a fool in front of his friends. Tolerated everything. It had seemed worth it, for her children's sake. Until the morning she saw Rafael and his friend the judge looking at Carmencita just the wrong way.
She waited till he was gone to work for the day, packed as fast as she could, piled the children into the car, and ran.
When he tracked her down she expected... not just trouble, she expected him to kill her. But instead he looked at her like she was shit on his shoe and told her she could have the children, but he wasn't giving her a brass dime. And she was so stunned with relief that she accepted it. Just to have the children with her, just to have the children safe.
Despite her relief she hated him then even more than before, for the easy way in which he handed his children over. He would have fought for his dogs harder. After all, his dogs were thoroughbreds. He'd paid good money for them. The children... well, as he said to her at the time, "I can always have more children."
The divorce went smoothly, and uncontested, through the courts. She got to keep her family, which was all that mattered to her. Once the final papers were signed she was able to breathe, and began the process of living. Her permits to work as a nurse did not come through, since her qualification was from El Salvador, and she didn't have the time or energy to chase it up. So she worked. Cleaned hotels, picked crops, washed dishes. A disposable worker in a disposable world.
She had her children, and that was all that mattered.
But yesterday... yesterday he had come to her with an offer. Sell him back her son, for money. He had decided, for whatever reason, that he wanted his son back. Mario, of course, because Mario was always his favourite. And he stood there, with a cheque in his hands, all smoothness and smarm, with that condescending smile on his face. Making her an offer, as though Mario was a commodity, to be bought and sold. He stood there expecting her to fold like she'd always done, expecting her to just take it.
And she said no. And he hit her, and she still said no. And he hit her again. And she ducked and ran, ran faster than she'd ever thought possible, straight to the Canadian Consulate. And he ran after her.
By the time he had run her to ground at an alley near the Consulate she had become nothing but a single point of fear, and she didn't even see Constable Fraser and his friend coming to her rescue. All she saw was the raised arm, the closed fist, and the rage in that man's eyes. She couldn't even scream...
They had arrived at the school gates. She smiled down at Mario, and he smiled back up. "Be good, Son, have a good day."
"You too, Momma." He didn't have to stand on tiptoe any more to give her a kiss. She kissed his forehead, full of pride in him. So many boys his age were ashamed of their mothers, didn't want to be seen with him. But she could always count on a kiss from her boy. Such a kind, such a loving child.
Nothing like his father.
Her heart clutched with panic again, and she spoke a little bit too sharply. "Mario, remember to give that envelope to your teacher. Make sure she reads it." The letter warned the teachers not to let Mario leave with anyone other than herself.
"Yes, Momma." With a wave and a last smile he was through the gate, and safe. For the time being. The school would keep him safe.
With a deep breath she squared her shoulders. She had made her mind up. She was going to the Canadian Consulate, and would tell Benton everything. He had looked after them in the past, helped her and her children when nobody else would. He would know what to do.
"So, Detective, I hope you have a good excuse for being late, today of all days." Welsh walked around his desk, sat on it, and folded his arms. "Your partner needed some moral support today, and you weren't here. So, spill it. What was so important that you couldn't be here for your partner?"
"Sir, I'm sorry..." Ray looked apologetically between Fraser and the Lieutenant, "but I was, uh, I was doing some digging... and you know, it seems this guy isn't as clean cut as all that..."
"Oh?" Welsh perked up a little at that. "In what way?"
"Well, I just swung by Stell... my contact's office, and she had all this stuff laid out for me."
"I see," Welsh took the sheaf of papers, and started to rummage through them. He nodded appreciatively. "I see... Constable Fraser? You might find these interesting..."
Fraser took the papers, and promptly started arranging them neatly again, glancing over them as he did so. "I see," he said, then... "oh dear, I thought as much..."
"Oh dear? What do you mean Fraser? What 'oh dear'? This is good news, the guy's a wife beater. If we can prove prior abuse then the case falls apart."
"Yes, I do see that... but..." Fraser pulled a face like he'd bitten something bitter. "It's just... it's hard to see it like this, in black and white."
Ray felt a little tug on his heart, a pain, as he realised that Fraser was looking at the information not as a police man, but as a friend of the victim.
"Yeah..." he said, beginning to pace the room. "I'm sorry, yeah... it's not good news for her."
"We need to get her to admit to the abuse," Welsh said, "because she never filed charges."
"The nurse who saw her, you know, the one who called the cops..." Ray was scruffing up his hair as he spoke, "she might testify to the abuse."
"She never actually saw it happen," Welsh pointed out. "Mrs Gómez claimed it was an accident."
"She claimed a lot of things were accidents," Fraser said, sadly. "Look at the X-rays. Old breaks. Fractured cheekbone, and that..." he pointed to an X-ray of her arm, and grimmaced. "That's a spiral fracture."
"If she won't speak up he'll get away with it," Welsh pointed out. "But this still might help our case, if it sows reasonable doubt."
Ray shook his head. "If she hasn't spoken up already chances are she never will."
Fraser cleared his throat. "She might. She's stronger than she thinks she is."
Ray couldn't help it. He was angry... angry with Dr Gómez, and he had to take it out on somebody. The Mountie didn't deserve it, but he was there. "What," he barked, "you gotta think the best of everyone? Is that like some kind of disease with you?"
Fraser seemed immune to insult. He just smiled. "Perhaps," he said, "but I prefer to think the best of people."
"You think the best of people... you get..." he tripped over his words, "you know what you get? You get disappointed."
"Gentlemen," Welsh cut in, "not that I want to cut our discussion short, but could we stop talking about rival philosophies for just one moment?"
"Yes, Sir," both men looked contrite, and the Lieutenant nodded as they fell silent.
"It seems like we have the beginnings of a defence for Constable Fraser. So I suggest that you, Detective, keep yourself available for interview when Fraser's attorney arrives, and that you, Fraser, acquaint yourself with the contents of these files."
"Yes, Sir." Ray turned to leave the room.
"Oh, and Kowalski..." Ray brightened somewhat at the sound of his real name. "Thank your 'contact' for us. This stuff is a real help."
"I'll make sure to do that." He smiled. An excuse to phone Stella. The day had just got better.
Margarita waited in the Consulate, drinking that funny kind of tea that she had thought only Benton made. The Mountie on desk duty seemed kind, but rather odd.
"If anyone asks," he informed her, "especially if the Inspector asks, pretend to be Canadian."
"Pretend to be Canadian?"
"I wouldn't normally suggest deception, but the Inspector is a real stickler for protocol. Just..." he put his finger to his lips and winked. "Pretend to be Canadian."
She sighed, and drank her tea, and watched the door, waiting for Benton to come.
Alison was hiding now, sobbing, but silently. She'd never known you could do that before. The sobs lurched through her like contractions, shaking her whole body.
He was outside, she knew it. He was outside, and he had a knife...
Please God, please God, please God, don't let him find me...
The door to the closet opened and he was standing there.
He had found her, and he had a knife...
The call out came just after the meeting with Fraser's lawyer, as though things weren't bad enough. Fraser had left already... something had come up at the Consulate, and Turnbull was quite adamant that only Fraser could deal with it. So off the Mountie went, and here Ray was with Tom Dewey, the other new guy, picking through a crime scene like a couple of crows.
"Looks like it wasn't her day," Dewey said, in an attempt to make banter. Ray wasn't playing. He didn't feel like stating the obvious, or indulging in grim crime scene humour. He glanced at Dewey darkly, and shrugged his shoulder. "Yeah," he muttered, and chewed his gum.
It was like any other crime scene, different in the particulars, but identical in its mixture of the banal and gruesome. A phone disconnected, a cup of cold coffee on a magazine. One shoe in the hallway, abandoned as she ran. Above her body hung coats, a dress suit. Hooks on the closet door, from which hung a selection of hats. She liked hats... flowery hats, woolly hats... They were covered, like everything else in the closet, with blood.
Ray worked his way through the details, bagging and tagging, handing the evidence to the forensic team, methodically double checking with Dewey that they were covering every inch. Upstairs he could hear other cops going through the same routine. Random chatter, people laughing. The occasional strobe of a camera flashing.
He hated this side of the job. What he wanted to do, when he became a cop, was to prevent crimes. Having to come in afterwards and deal with the mess, and the grief and the horror of it... He didn't know what was worse. The scene itself, or telling the loved ones afterward. Well, either one of them got him. Every damned time.
She had been a beautiful girl. Blonde, an elfin face. She must have been rich from her clothes, and this apartment, and her hair was never naturally that light. But her make up had run with tears, and beneath the slap was a terrified child.
Once forensics had taken the photographs and cleared the scene Ray found himself reaching for her eyes, and gently shutting the lids. He knew he would have to explain himself later, but something about her sightless blue gaze kicked him in the gut. Her eyes didn't stay all the way shut, as though she was peeping through her false lashes. He knelt beside her body, and wished he was religious so he could at least offer up a prayer. Before long she would be food for Mort, and though he knew the forensic examiner was only doing his job it still sent a shudder down his spine. That somebody could be alive one minute, dead the next, and then worse than dead. Carved up like a Christmas turkey, ribs cracked open, heart and lungs exposed...
It wasn't the dead that haunted him. It was what happened before the death, whatever the last thing was that this poor woman saw. And it was what happened after that, when she had become just evidence, something to be rummaged through like an old suitcase or a chest of drawers.
She would be emptied out, and stitched back together, and pickled in formaldehyde, and buried.
And that was it. That was all she wrote.
He stood, and his knees popped. Yeah, he thought bitterly, glancing across at Dewey. He saw it for a moment in the other cop's eyes, and nodded recognition. They had got here too late.
Mrs Gómez had stopped crying now, but Fraser held her for a little bit longer. Her head was on his shoulder, and he had his hand on her hair, patting it automatically. He was staring at the far wall, dazed. Trying not to... trying not to...
What? He didn't quite know what he was feeling. He closed his eyes for a moment, and remembered to breathe.
"Hold it together, Son." His father was standing behind Mrs Gómez with an unreadable face. Fraser blinked at the suddenness of the apparition, then nodded to him, briefly. His face remained completely impassive, as he waited until Margarita was strong enough to raise her head.
"Thank you," she sat back, and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "You've been, you've been so... kind."
Fraser produced a cotton handkerchief, and she took it gratefully.
"I'm sorry, I must seem like... like such a bad mother. I've never... never been able to say anything before. I never told anybody, not even a priest..."
"You're not a bad mother, Margarita," Fraser spoke her name gently, as he only did when she was at her most vulnerable. "And you've nothing to confess. You're a good mother, you protected your children. And you're protecting them now. And we will protect Mario." Already his mind was turning. "If you don't mind, I've got to make a call to the Chicago PD..."
"You're not going to arrest Rafael," she asked, fingers twisting together. "He'll just get out again, and it will be worse than ever."
"The first thing I'm going to do," Fraser said, "is phone my partner and ask him to stake out the school."
"But we will have to arrest your ex husband."
"He will get away with it," she stated flatly. "Men like him always do. He told me, he said, between him and me, who would a jury think was more..." her lip curled in distaste around the word, "'plausible.'"
"Margarita, I saw your X-rays, and I am sure we can prove that they were not the result of an accident." She looked at him questioningly and he gave a grim smile. "The spiral fracture of your right humerus, combined with the bruises you presented with on that occasion. You are a nurse, and he's a doctor. You both know what that means."
"That could not have been an accident. He cannot explain that one away."
She looked at him, and he could see behind her eyes a new confidence forming.
"All right," she said. "I'll testify."
Pauline Griffin had been marking papers while the children worked, and had not yet got around to reading the note that Mario brought with him. So when a knock came to her door and a man in a suit walked in she thought nothing of it. When Mario cried out, in a mixture of surprise and delight, "Daddy!" she thought nothing of it. When the father promised to have Mario back by the end of lunchtime she thought nothing of it.
She thought nothing of it until the children had all left for their meal, and she had finished her marking and refilled her coffee. Only then did she finally get around to reading the note from Mario's mother.
'Dear Miss Griffin,
I am writing to ask that you please do not allow Mario to leave with anybody except me today. His father has threatened to take Mario from me, and I ask that you please do not allow this to happen. His father has been abusive in the past and I am frightened for my son.
Yours, Margarita Gómez.'
The coffee cup that she was holding fell to the floor. Ignoring the scald on her leg she ran from the room, straight to the head teacher's office, where she grabbed the phone.
"I'm sorry, I don't know where Mrs Gómez is..." The young nun behind the desk this afternoon was feeling rather frazzled. Due to the influx of new homeless from the recent arson attack office work had increased rather steeply, and she didn't feel up to this. She'd joined the convent in hopes of travelling the world, helping others. And, well, she had travelled the world. From London to Chicago. And she was helping others... just not the kind of missionary work she had been anticipating. She'd had romantic ideas of travelling up the Amazon to 'save' the Indians. Instead she was doing... well, this. And though she was sure it was God's plan, it wasn't exactly hers. She resented the fact that she resented His plan, but it didn't help matters. She was in over her head.
In fact, she was so far in over her head that she nearly missed what the woman on the phone was saying. When the penny dropped her heart froze.
Oh Lord God...
"I'll send people out to find the boy's mother as quickly as I can," she assured the school teacher on the other end of the line. "And I'll get back to you as soon as I track her down..."
Suddenly her job had meaning. She didn't even think to chastise herself for her lack of grace towards the homeless. All she could think of was that sweet, cheeky little boy, who shared his sweets with everybody, and always had a grin for her.
Mario... dear Lord, let nothing bad happen to Mario.
Mario was grinning his excitement at the day, bouncing at the fun of it, to be seeing Daddy again, to be sitting up front in a car, with the wind blowing in his face. His father had the stereo on, and had stopped talking. Mario glanced at him now and then, gradually becoming uneasy at the hard profile. His father was not smiling any more. He wondered when they were going to turn the car around and go back to school.
Gradually the fun was bleeding out of things. The city was thinning out. After a while he cleared his throat and asked the question. "Daddy, when are we going home?"
"We're going home now."
"We're going the wrong way." Mario hadn't been out of the city in years, but he wasn't stupid. He knew this wasn't home.
Mario shut up, suddenly frightened.
His father glanced at him, an impatient expression softening briefly to a puzzlement, then freezing back to anger. "Look, you know I love you, don't you?"
"So, you're coming home with me."
"But..." Mario's lip wobbled. "What about Momma?"
The slap came out of nowhere. Daddy had never slapped him before. And then Daddy called Mommy a name that hurt even worse than the cut lip.
Mario didn't say another word.
Elaine put him through to Welsh, not Ray.
"I'm sorry Constable, the Detective is out on other business... but I need to talk to you. We just had a call from the nuns at Sacred Heart. Apparently one of your neighbours, a Mario Gómez, has been snatched from his school."
"Snatched?" The moment he said it Margarita stiffened, staring at him. He couldn't look at her. He sat suddenly on the desk, uncharacteristically, and covered his eyes. "When? When was he snatched?"
"Just before lunch time."
"So... only twenty minutes ago?"
"Have you put a call through to the airports, trains and coach companies?"
"Of course we have, Constable, we're not idiots."
"I'm sorry, Sir, I didn't mean to imply..."
"It's all right, Constable." Welsh sounded as wound up as Fraser felt. "Yes, we've put alerts out to all travel agencies. And we're trying to get an account of all his vehicles, so we can get units watching for any licence plates if they head into another state."
"Do you know the man's current address?"
"He has several properties. But we've already got guys out there looking up leads."
"Have you got warrants?"
"Constable, we're working on it."
"I have Mario's mother with me. Is there anything I can tell her?"
"We've dispatched officers to take her other children into protective custody at the 27th Precinct. They're with us now. Other than that..." Welsh's voice sounded suddenly tired. "Just tell her... tell her we're doing all we can."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Fraser uncovered his face, and looked up at Margarita. "I'll tell her that."
He dropped the phone back onto its receiver and stood up. "Margarita," he began, then stopped, stung as she slapped him across the face.
"You said you would protect him, you said that..."
"You're too late. You're too late..."
"Margarita," he said, "we have your other children, they're at the Precinct now. The Consulate has vehicles, we can get you there in ten minutes."
She stood there shaking, then nodded. "I'm sorry," she said, coldly. "I'm really sorry... it's just... Mario..."
She turned her back on him, folding her arms. Fraser grimaced. She was angry. That he understood.
Within moments he had retrieved the first car key he could find, the Consulate limo. He didn't bother clearing it through Thatcher. He simply took Margarita by the arm, and together they marched as quickly as possible to the car.
Ray had never liked opera, but from now on he would always associate with death. Mort was singing as he worked, and the damned noise was making him queasy. He stood with his back to Mort, the better not to watch as the man palpated limbs, examined the defensive slashes to her forearms, and picked beneath her fingers.
Finally Mort stopped singing, and cleared his throat. "She was a brave girl. She put up a fight. She scratched him, the blood under her fingernails is probably his, not hers."
"His?" Ray knew that the chances were high that the assailant was a man, but he also knew better than to take anything for granted.
"Yes, his. From the strength of the blows, and from the angle... he was tall. Six foot two, perhaps six foot three. Right handed. He struck her so hard that the knife sliced into her bone. Fragments of the blade..." Mort drifted off for a moment, and Ray looked over his shoulder just in time to see him tweezering out a metal shard. He gulped, and turned back to the wall. Mort continued in his Czechoslovakian accent. "Did you find the weapon?"
"It will be nicked, these pieces will complete it like a jigsaw." Ray winced. The attack was playing out in his mind, flashes of the knife, the noise it must have made when it slammed into bone. "Hey, Mort, that means he must have been covered in blood."
"I take it there was much blood at the scene?"
"Yeah... and it was tracked upstairs, looks like he used the shower. He was in a hurry to get clean..."
"Yes, he was a man in a hurry," Mort concurred. "She was murdered earlier today." Incongruously he started in with the singing again. "Ertrinken, versinken, unbewusst..."
"Mort!" Ray interrupted him. "Is there anything else?"
"Yes. She recently had a baby."
"A baby?" Jesus Christ, he thought, where was the baby?
"Yes, about a fortnight ago."
"So, you think she was killed by the child's father?"
"I don't speculate. All I can say for certain is that she was killed in a violent frenzy by a man over six foot. He must have been powerfully built, it was an impulse killing. She has prior injuries... I suspect she had been a victim of physical abuse. He could be escalating."
"Yes. I can't be sure without the X-ray, but this bulge in her upper arm feels like a partially healed spiral fracture..."
"Spiral fracture?" Ray turned, stared Mort right in the eye. "You sure of that?"
"Reasonably so, yes..."
"Oh God, I know who it is..." Ray had more than a hunch. "Thanks Mort," he cried over his shoulder as he hurried through the door.
"So, Detective... you're saying that this Doctor Gómez left the station house, went to see this woman, and what... murdered her? All this before calmly strolling into a school to kidnap his son? He didn't exactly look like an axe murderer, and the teacher would have said something if he was covered in blood."
"He showered at the victim's place..."
"Look, I don't like him any more than you, but he's a professional man, not some whack job..."
"Yeah, yeah he is. He's a whack job, Sir." Ray was past polite now, and didn't give a damn if he offended the Lieutenant. His mouth was running away with him. "You look up 'whack job' in the dictionary, and his picture's right there. I mean... you saw the way he went at Fraser, right here in this office, and... and..." Ray flapped his hands in frustration as the words just didn't come. "Argh! Look, I'm telling you Sir... it's him. I know it is."
Both men startled as the door swung open. Elaine stepped into the room, radiating urgency.
"Miss Besbriss," Welsh glared at her. "Have you heard of knocking?"
"Sir, I'm sorry, Sir, but we've got a name for the victim."
"She's Alison. Alison Hall." She gulped. "And... and her neighbours say that she had recently broken up with her boyfriend. Something about a baby... she gave him up for adoption."
Thank God, Ray thought. At least there wasn't a newborn baby lying around somewhere, abandoned...
Elaine continued. "And the boyfriend..."
"Yes, Miss Besbriss?"
"The boyfriend was an older man, seemed rich... spoke with an accent."
Welsh threw a glance at Ray. "I see..."
"Apparently they broke up after he beat her. And he came today, demanding to see the baby. They could hear him shouting through the walls."
Welsh rubbed his chin speculatively. "Well... it seems your hunch might have been on the ball," he conceded, "it could be the same guy. Doctor Gómez did leave here angry..."
"And he'd just lost one son, perhaps he thought he should cut his losses and snatch the other."
Ray waited, practically vibrating with anxiety, waiting for the Lieutenant to make a decision.
"I'll alert all units," Welsh finally stated. "You," he pointed at Ray, "find Fraser. And Elaine?" She paused on her way out the door. He gave her a grim nod. "Good work."
Fraser never liked driving in Chicago. It was nothing like the Territories. Too many potential hazards, and not at all the kinds of hazards that he was used to. Ask him to drive in a raging blizzard across slippery roads in the dark, and he was fine. Chicago, however, was a minefield, and in the daytime it was worse. Too many cars, too many people. He was constantly aware that he was sitting in a heavy armoured weapon, that could kill people if he handled it incorrectly. But he was aware also of the weight of Margarita's gaze on his shoulder, and kept his foot down. She had elected to sit in the back, where she could hide herself from scrutiny. He could hear her moving behind him, hear her whispering in Spanish, so silently that most people wouldn't have noticed. His Spanish was very poor, and he made no effort to work out what she was saying. He knew already... she was praying.
He got them there in ten minutes, as promised, his hands sweating against the steering wheel, and his heart hammering in his chest. It wasn't often that he used the station house's car park. He elicited some curious glances as he squealed to a halt, parking crookedly and not caring. Jumping out he opened the door for Margarita, slammed it, clicked the key to lock it, and started to move quickly to the building. He could feel Margarita's arm in his hand, trembling, then realised he was shaking too. He tried to catch his breath.
Coming in the back way he heard Mort singing as he performed an autopsy. He put his arm around Margarita, and swept her along. The last thing he wanted was for her to glance to the right and see something through the mortuary door as they passed. They turned, turned again, through the grim little canteen, past the snack dispenser, the coffee machine, which smelled of something not quite coffee, the ashtrays with squashed stubs, the Styrofoam cups that had not made it to the waste paper baskets.
Finally, they were in the squad room, and Elaine rose to her feet, Francesca Vecchio beside her. Margarita's three remaining children stood, the eldest girl holding her remaining little brother to her. Paulo had always been small, very small for his age. He'd been premature, beaten out early, and people often thought he was younger than his brother. He was what they called 'slow,' soft hearted. Carmencita was mothering him, and looked older than fifteen. Maria was huddled up beside her siblings, head on Carmencita's shoulder, twelve years old, but sucking her thumb.
"Fraser," Frannie spoke urgently, for once not trying to win his affections or flirt with him. She looked across at Margarita, and smiled, but it twisted, and turned vulnerable. "Margarita..." she said, and stuttered to a stop. She opened her arms, and stepped towards her, and the other woman was swallowed in a hug. When Frannie released her Margarita swayed for a moment, then held her own arms open, gathering her children toward her. She looked at Frannie, with gratitude, and shook her head, unable to speak.
Elaine touched Fraser gently on the shoulder. "Welsh is with Mort," she said, "I'll go get him."
"Thank you kindly, Elaine," Fraser managed to say, feeling dazed still. Frannie was talking to Margarita now, almost oblivious to his presence. "I know the children can't stay here. It's safe, I know, but it's not good for the children. Ma's talked to her cousin, that's where we're staying while the house is being fixed up, and it will be a bit tight, but we can all fit in. And it will be safe there too. Nobody will know where you are, there will be a whole bunch of us to keep an eye out... you'll never be alone. And Lieutenant Welsh has said he'll put a couple of men outside, just to be safe."
Margarita's body seemed to subtly relax, as though a little bit of the tension had been squeezed out of her. "Thank you," she said, "thank you Frannie... you and your family have always been so good to me."
Frannie smiled again, that naked face. "Yeah, well... that's what family's for."
Fraser felt a muscle twitch in his jaw. The Vecchios were always so generous, he thought. Anyone their Ray brought home was invited to their table. And Ray was particular who his friends were... he didn't have close friends beside Fraser. But he'd taken the Gómez family under his wing, as though he recognised a kinship in them. Something in Francesca's eyes reminded Fraser of Margarita, hiding something. He looked away.
Ray was ten minutes into jogging to the Consulate when his cell phone rang. Cursing he pulled it out of his pocket and snapped it open. "What," he snarled into the thing, not caring that he was huffing like a phone perv.
Elaine was on the line. "I'm sorry Ray, but you crossed paths with Fraser. He's here at the station house. He's brought Mrs Gómez."
"Greatness..." he turned and started jogging just as doggedly back to the station house. Somebody should make that damned Mountie carry a phone.
Before the Vecchio rescue plan came into play Welsh needed to talk to Margarita. "I'll keep you together though," he said. "I don't want any mistakes." He could tell anyway, there was no way that Mrs Gómez was going to let her remaining children out of her sight. So they were all crowded into an interview room, the four members of the Gómez family, Francesca, Fraser and Welsh.
Welsh cleared his throat. "I realise there are details that you won't want to talk about now..." his eyes flickered over the children, and she nodded, understanding. "What I want to know is simply this... where do you think he might go? We have three addresses for him, and one boat. He's on sabbatical, so he's not been into work for a week now. There are guys staking all these places out, and so far he's a no show. Is there anything," he leaned across urgently, "anything at all we might have overlooked?"
Margarita thought, please God, give me an answer...
For a long slow moment she shook her head, then her face cleared. "His mother," she said. "He always said he couldn't handle children, he needed a woman to look after them. And his mother was heartbroken when I got the children. It was my only regret... she's a good woman. But she loves him. She can't help it. And he loves her as far as he can love anybody... if he has Mario with him, then he'll go to his mother.
"Where is his mother now?"
Margarita's face went tired and closed. "She's in El Salvador. He'll be trying to leave the country."
"He must know we'll be watching the borders... he won't be able to get through airport security, and even if he does get over the border, it's a long way to El Salvador. A lot of borders to cross... it will be an interstate chase... he knows he can't outrun us." Welsh was scrubbing his face, trying not to alarm the children, but still having to state the bare facts. He hadn't told Margarita that her ex husband was a suspect in a homicide, since there was still a chance that he was wrong. Nevertheless, she must realise that he was a dangerous and unstable man. Suddenly it dawned on Welsh that he hadn't told Fraser about Ray's theory yet. He placed his hand flat on the interview room table, and wearily pushed himself to his feet.
He was so tired.
"Mrs Gómez, I'll leave you with the children for a moment. Constable Fraser and I need to confer."
She looked up at them, then nodded. As the Lieutenant and Fraser made to leave the room she got to her feet, and stepped toward Fraser... not far in this narrow space. She put her hand on his arm. "Benton," she said softly, and he dipped his head. She looked up at him for a long moment, then stood on tiptoe and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm sorry," she said. "It wasn't your fault."
Fraser felt a knot in his throat, as though he was choking. He pushed words past it. "It's all right, Margarita. You have nothing to apologise for."
She blinked and turned back to where her children were huddling close to Frannie. Fraser felt frozen, didn't know what he could do to help.
"Constable." Welsh's voice kicked back in.
"Yes, Sir." Fraser came back to himself and stepped smartly out of the room.
Ray was sweating by the time he made it to the bullpen. "Where's Fraser," he demanded of everyone in earshot. Elaine looked up from her paperwork. "He's with Welsh and the Gómez family, in interview room three."
"Thanks Elaine," he threw over his shoulder, and started making his way along the corridors, practically running into his quarry. Fraser and Welsh were standing outside the interview room, talking very low.
"Jeez, Fraser, you're a hard man to track down. So, you found Margarita?"
"Yes. She's safe, but Mario's been snatched."
"Yeah, I know Fraser, that's what I came to tell you." He tried to reign in his irritation, but damn it, he'd just spent twenty minutes running, all for nothing. "You know, in the twentieth century we have these things called cell phones. Mighty handy, you could, er, you know, you might think of getting one." Fraser rubbed his eyebrow. If he had a reason for avoiding cell phones he wasn't sharing it with his partner. Ray sighed. "All right then, what do you guys know about Mario?"
Welsh leaned back against the wall, and folded his arms. He had a talent for appearing to fill any given space, even a long and echoing corridor. The man had only to stand up and he loomed over anybody in sight. It wasn't just his height, it was sheer presence. Right now he was in full cop mode, and he loomed, lazily, without even thinking about it.
"We figure that he's going to try to flee to El Salvador. We have people watching his different addresses and properties, but he's not showed up at any of them yet. We have alerts out on all his vehicles, but we don't know that he's actually driving any of them. He could have hired a car somewhere. We know what the furthest distance he could have gone in any direction is. We know that he's probably going to be in contact with his mother at some point, but it's going to be difficult to put a tap on her phone, what with her being in a different country."
"He's gonna find it difficult to get to El Salvador," Ray pointed out. "I mean, he's gotta hell of a long way to travel..."
"One thousand, nine hundred and forty five kilometres, give or take..."
"Yeah, thanks for that Fraser," Ray couldn't help feeling pissed. It wasn't as though they needed to know the exact distance. And he had begun to realise something about his partner. When Fraser was worried he retreated to facts and figures. And yeah, he supposed it was harmless, if damned annoying, but the guy was beginning to remind him more and more of Mr Spock... which left Welsh in the role of Captain Kirk, and knowing Ray's luck himself in the role of third extra from the left in a red uniform. Which was a worrying thought, all things considered... he didn't want to be the first officer down if they ever caught up with this bozo.
Welsh gave the pair of them an irritated look, and continued. "We know he's going to find it hard to cross the borders, so we need to figure out what other plan he might have."
"It might be worth finding out whether he has access to a private air plane," Fraser offered.
"Yeah, that's more like it," Ray chewed his thumb knuckle, then removed it, stinging. "He's rich, his friends are rich, we should find out which of them might help him out..."
"His wife might know," Welsh pointed out.
"She's not his wife," Fraser surprised both Welsh and Ray by snapping.
"Okay, whatever you say, Constable," Welsh spread out his hands in a placating gesture. "Still, she was his wife, she might know."
"Yes," Fraser's voice had returned to it's normal mild tone. Ray cocked his head, quizzically, but it seemed the man was calm again. "I think," Fraser continued, "that someone should contact the El Salvadoran Consulate, and let them know what's happening."
"They won't like that, Constable," Welsh sounded gloomy. "They've already been in touch about your alleged attack on one of their citizens. They'll probably think we're just trying to slander him."
"Yeah, maybe," Ray grimaced at the thought, then shook it loose. "But, you know, if you remind them about the boy, about Margarita and her kids in there, it might get through. I mean, they're, er, they're El Salvador people too. Just cause this Doctor Gómez thinks the whole world's about him, doesn't mean everyone else will."
"Absolutely true, Detective." Welsh pushed himself away from the wall, and took a step towards the door of the interview room. "So, we phone the Consulate. Ray, how's your Spanish?"
"What Spanish? I can chat up girls, that's about it."
"You, Constable Fraser?"
"It leaves a lot to be desired. However, the Consulate staff will obviously speak English."
Welsh almost laughed. "Finally, a language you don't speak..." He shrugged. "Okay, so Ray, you can be liaison officer for today. And then you and Fraser get out every map you can find and look for air strips the guy might be going to. Get Elaine on it too. I'm going to ask Margarita some more questions, then get a car round so that Frannie can get the lot of them to safety."
"Yes, Sir," Fraser and Ray spoke in unison, then started down the corridor together. Ray was scratching the back of his head. Something was bothering him.
"Yes, I'm perfectly fine."
Ray puzzled over the answer. He didn't know the man very well yet, but he had an odd feeling. Earlier, when Fraser snapped at Welsh, he had caught a glimpse of... well... something. It was as though there was a shadow lurking just under the surface. He wondered was Fraser even aware of it, did he know himself what was wrong?
Nah. He shook his head. He was just imagining it. Right now Fraser seemed impassive as a stone.
The conversation with the El Salvadoran Consulate was, not to put too fine a point upon it, unproductive. It appeared that Doctor Gómez was a great supporter of South American charities, and had often attended Consulate functions. Despite his best efforts to explain the predicament of Mrs Gómez the man on the other end of the phone remained unmoved. "It sounds to me like normal divorce stuff. People accuse each other of all sorts of things in a bitter break up. I'm sure that Doctor Gómez has the best interests of his son at heart."
"He's guilty of custodial interference and kidnap," Ray was trying not to shout down the phone. "He snatched the lad from school..."
"He's probably just taken him out for the day. Have you checked the local zoos?"
Ray scraped his chair back, and shoved it back onto two legs, staring at the ceiling, as though he could bore through it with his angry gaze and eyeball God. For a moment he imagined the argument he'd have with the Big Guy... like what was He thinking when He invented wife beaters and kidnappers, and idiot beaurocrats? The guy he was talking to was like an El Salvadoran Turnbull without the Canadian charm. Ray shook his head and came back to reality. He took a deep breath, and sat forward, the chair landing back on four legs with a clunk.
"Look, all I can say is that Mrs Gómez and her children are at least as important as your Doctor. You should be looking out for them too. Or do you only care about your citizens if they're rich and come to charity balls?"
The phone dropped with a clunk at the other end, and Ray stood abruptly, and cursed into it before slamming it back in its cradle.
From Elaine's station Fraser lifted his head, and gazed sympathetically across. "No joy then?"
"No." Ray kicked his way around his desk, looking for something to punch. "Stupid bloody idiot paper pushers." He stopped, and looked at Fraser, apologetically. "No offence..."
"What you got?"
"Well, we've marked all of the privately owned air strips within travelling distance... there are quite a few of them. Narrowing them down is proving to be something of an obstacle..."
Elaine piped up. "Welsh gave us a list of the doctor's friends that Mrs Gómez thought might help him. Now we're cross checking deeds and all the rest of it, trying to see if any of them match..."
"By the time we've figured all this out he'll be long gone," Ray felt his hands clenching and unclenching. He really needed to do something soon, or he was going to explode.
Fraser sighed, and Ray caught a twitch in the man's face. There it was again, something bitten down and hidden. Maybe he wasn't the only person in the room who wanted to blow up. He leaned over the map, scratching his head.
"Hey, what's that?"
"What's what?" Fraser sounded unusually clipped. Yeah... there was something going on there.
"You see?" Ray pointed. "The guy's lawyer, he had a keyring, with a golf logo on it, and so did Gómez..." Ray tried not to smirk. The Lieutenant had made a quip earlier that Gómez and his lawyer were golfing buddies, and it had turned out to be true. That was why he remembered the keyrings. "See? That's the same golf course, right next to the airstrip."
"Yes..." Fraser's voice trailed off, and he nodded. Elaine drew a circle around the little airfield. The three of them shared a look. "I think... I think you've got it, Ray."
"It's the best lead we have," Elaine agreed. "So... I'll go tell Welsh?"
"We'll never get there," Ray was pacing urgently. "We'll never get there in time..."
"We can try," Fraser stood, folding the map.
For the second time that day Fraser was sitting in a car that had been requisitioned without permission. This time, however, he wasn't the driver. He had, however, fielded an irate phone call from Welsh, who finally admitted that he didn't object, on principle, to Fraser and Ray's little field trip, but that in future he would like to be informed if one of his detectives was going to go off half cocked in a squad vehicle.
Barely had Fraser folded up Ray's cell phone, when it rang again. This time it was Thatcher on the other end, and she was not nearly so understanding about Fraser's having absconded with a Consulate vehicle. Fraser was half way through an explanation when Ray took one hand off the steering wheel, grabbed the phone, slammed it shut and tossed it onto the back seat.
"Tell her the signal died," Ray snapped curtly. "We've got other things to worry about. Tell me when we get to the turn off."
Fraser returned his attention to the map, though he had practically memorised it by now. "Coming up on the left," he said, then hung on to his seat as Ray swerved.
"Hey, that's what the 'noonoo' lights are for," Ray said, as though answering Fraser's unspoken criticism of the speed and illegality of the turn. Under normal circumstances Fraser would be expressing some serious concerns about his partner's driving. Right now he was more worried about the whereabouts of Mario.
Margarita had told him that it wasn't his fault. He could still feel her kiss, and the slap, on his cheek. Somehow, despite her reassurance, he couldn't shake the sense that it was exactly his fault, that something he had done, or failed to do, had resulted in Mario's being kidnapped. He knew it was completely irrational for him to feel that way, and he kept trying to push the notion down. Whatever he told himself though, the guilt kept bulging back up in him.
Perhaps if he hadn't antagonised the man? Perhaps if he had been more astute and realised the danger? Perhaps...
"Don't be silly, son." His father's voice broke into his reverie, causing him to flinch a little. "There's nothing you could have done."
'Great, thanks for that Dad,' he thought. He couldn't say anything though, since he was sitting next to Ray. The man probably already thought he was a lunatic, having come across his previous living arrangements. It wouldn't exactly improve matters if he suddenly started talking to himself. For a moment, as often before, he wondered if he was in fact 'talking to himself' when he engaged with his father.
"Don't start that nonsense again, Benton," his father sounded justifiably miffed. "I just came to see how you were holding up."
'I'm fine,' he thought, 'just can't talk right now.'
"Anyway, I wanted you to know... if you need me, I'm here."
The presence at his shoulder faded, and Fraser closed his eyes. Thank God he wasn't the one driving... It struck him that there was a chance that he was going mad.
Mario was pretending to sleep when his father pulled up at the gas station. The man was swearing to himself, complaining about the car rental, and how they should have given him a full tank. After a little while the voice faded, and Mario peeked through the window to see his father in the shop, standing with his back to him as he paid the cashier.
It was the scariest thing he'd ever done, but he did it anyway. He opened the passenger door, and slid out of the car, crouching low, and began to run. He had no idea where to go, other than away from his father. To his right were a line of trees, behind which he could see nothing. As quickly as he could he made his way to the long little wood. Crunching across the mulch he felt his heart beating, hard. Too hard.
Once, when he was very little, he had found a bird that had been injured by a cat. He'd carried the little bird in his hands, looking for his parents, hoping they could do something to make the bird better. His mother had kissed him on the forehead, told him he was a good little boy, and taken the bird away. She lied to him, and said that she had brought it to the vet, and it had flown away. But even though he was very little, he had known that she was lying. He pretended to believe her so that she wouldn't feel bad about him feeling bad.
He wanted to be away from his Daddy. He wanted his Momma.
Right now, his heart felt like that broken bird.
The car was empty.
Rafael froze, staring at the passenger seat, where his son wasn't sitting. For a moment he felt panic and loss. Then he stuffed it down, and felt only rage.
The little bastard. How dare the little bastard run out on him? What was it, was it the mother? Did he get it from Margarita? That bitch cut and ran, the little brat must have got it from her. He wondered what she'd been telling the boy, and ground his teeth. He was too old for this shit. He was a grown man. He'd had women, he'd had children of his own. How could he be standing here, pushing fifty, with nothing to show for any of it? Alison, giving his baby away to strangers. As though she owned the child, just because she was the mother. As though it was her choice, who raised the baby. Bitch deserved to die. And now, even Mario, his own son, the one who looked most like him, the clever one, the funny one... even Mario ran from him.
What the hell had happened, that he'd had five children, and nothing... nobody to show for it? Who would be him when he was gone?
Well, Rafael thought, growing deliberately cool as he considered the possibilities. The boy couldn't have got far. He wouldn't have run out into the road. The boy might be a disobedient brat, but he wasn't suicidal. He'd have run for cover. Rafael dumped the sandwiches and soda into the car, then stood back, folding his arms across his chest. Grimly he surveyed his surroundings.
"Huh," he breathed, and smiled. "There you are..." He could see from where he stood where a little boy might hide. In the wood. There was one space that was wider than the other gaps between trees, and Rafael made his way toward it. Not in a hurry. He could afford to be patient. The boy was disobedient, but that was his mother's fault. Eventually, with proper parenting, the child would learn. In fact, now that Rafael thought about it, he admired the boy's initiative. He'd picked the right son. Paulo was an abortive little brat... he was surprised the boy had lived. But Mario... well, Mario had something about him.
Attentive to every little sound, he stepped under the branches. His knife was out, to scare his prey. He was used to hunting. He knew how these things worked. And Mario... well, he had nobody to run to. Rafael knew that in the end he would track his quarry down.
Fraser was leaning forward, staring at the road. "Ray," he turned his head to the driver. "More haste, less speed."
"What?" Ray blinked at him, then back to the road. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"We need to slow down as we pass landmarks."
"We need to get to the air strip in time," Ray disagreed. "We're not taking a scenic tour you know."
Fraser nodded, distractedly, rubbing his forehead. "True, but I was thinking. Mario's still a young boy, not quite ten. When you were that age, what do you remember about road trips?"
"Stopping off for burgers, and asking 'are we nearly there yet?'"
"That's right... I can't imagine that Mario's father will have been able to make this trip without at least one bathroom break."
Ray tossed an inquisitive glance at his partner. "I wouldn't have pegged you for the road trip kind of guy."
"I've been on road trips," Fraser stated, defensively. "My grandparents moved around quite a lot while I was growing up. Admittedly they never attempted to flee the country, taking me against my will over international borders..."
"Yeah, well, I'm glad to hear it," Ray snorted derisively. "You know, I don't see this guy going out of his way to make his son comfortable."
"Perhaps. But we should at least check at petrol stations, burger places etc..."
"I'll phone the station, get Elaine on it. If she hears anything she'll let us know, and we can turn back. But I'm telling you, I don't want to get to this air strip and find out we're too late."
"Understood." Fraser sighed, and reached into the back seat, retrieving Ray's cell phone. "I'll call Elaine while you drive."
Ray quirked an eyebrow at him. "Yeah, stop panicking Fraser, I'm not a total idiot. I'll keep my eyes on the road."
Margarita was sitting at the kitchen table with Ma Vecchio and her cousin. The children were playing loudly in the living room. Much shouting and laughter as they jeered at the television. The kids had missed television while they were staying at the shelter. The nuns were well meaning, but they seemed to think that cartoons were of the devil.
She blinked, her eyes stinging with tears unshed, and looked up as someone entered the room.
Carmencita, again looking like a woman, not a child. It was in the eyes. She looked like someone who had seen too much to be so young. Margarita's heart clenched again at the thought of what her daughter might have witnessed. One day, perhaps, they would talk. For now, there weren't really words for it. At least... at least she had run. At least she hadn't turned a blind eye forever, and had taken her children to safety.
Safety. Her mouth soured at the thought. With Mario gone, what was her safety really worth? She'd give up herself utterly, if he would only come home.
Carmencita pulled up a chair, and sat at the table, next to her mother, and the two Italian ladies. For a moment Margarita thought, 'it looks like a séance,' as though they were gathered for the dead. But Mario wasn't dead. She knew it... she knew it. He couldn't be. She would have felt it in her gut. She would have known.
She looked at her daughter, and her daughter looked back. Gently the young woman laid her hand across her mother's fingers, and squeezed.
Don't cry, she thought, don't cry.
Too late, and too little. The water on her face was warm. What good was that? She despised herself for her tears. What good did weeping ever do?
"Stop," Fraser practically barked at Ray. His colleague looked at him with surprise, then pushed his foot on the brake. Both men surged forward in their seats, Fraser snapped back by his seat belt. Ray practically hit the steering wheel, before catching his breath and turning to give his passenger a very strange look.
"What the hell is going on with you?"
"I don't know... I just..."
"Look, do you have something, or are you just having some kind of absinthe seizure?"
Fraser crinkled his brow, not understanding the reference. Then he shrugged it off. "I think... I think we should ask back there."
"In there? Why that petrol station? I mean, why that one in particular? We've been past five at least..."
"I don't... I don't know." Fraser had already opened the door, and was walking against the traffic, back toward the pumps.
Ray seized his hair, and yanked it by the roots, as though by sheer force he could make it even spikier. All it did was give him a smarting scalp. "You are officially," he growled, "the most annoying man I've ever worked with." He slammed out of the car and stomped after Fraser. "What the hell are you doing?"
Fraser was turning on the spot, next to the petrol pumps, with his hand to his forehead, tracing a circle on his brow with his thumb. "I saw... what did I see... I saw..."
"What?" Ray would have been stamping his feet if he didn't think it made him look like a kid throwing a tantrum. But if Fraser didn't pull himself together soon, he'd damned well throw a tantrum, and not care who knew it.
"We've been following tyre tracks for the last hour," Fraser said, "they must have been going near the speed limit, sometimes over it, from the spread of the tread..."
"What are you talking about?"
"I don't have time," Fraser had the nerve to sound affronted. "If you want me to instruct you on tracking vehicles and tyre treads I can do so after we've caught up with Mario but now..."
"Now you're the one who's slowing us down. What the hell is with you, Fraser?"
"I think... I think Rafael has been ahead of us on this route. These are the only tracks which have travelled at such speed, which denotes a sense of urgency in the driver. As though he was fleeing something, or hurrying toward something." Fraser glanced at Ray, sharp eyed with urgency. "And yes," he said defensively, before his partner could raise any objections. "I know there could be any number of reasons for a car to travel at such speed, but so far these are the only tracks which show such a pattern of..." he shook his head, and stumbled for a word. "Pressure."
"So, what... you're saying we really are on this guy's trail? That's good... we need to keep after him."
Fraser nodded, distractedly, rubbing a miserable hand across his forehead. "So far they haven't deviated from the route we expected he would take to the air strip... but they veer off here. He must have stopped for gas."
"Yeah, well, great. That's fantastic. So now we know it's them. But they have a full tank of gas, and they're still ahead of us. So come on, chop chop, we need to get after them..."
Fraser was crouching. "Footprints, here... a child got out, and ran..."
"You can see that?" Ray stiffened. "Where? Where did he go?"
"This way..." Fraser was suddenly standing, then started off like a hare to the trees.
Ray darted after him. 'Oh God,' he thought, 'don't let this be bad...'
When he caught up to Fraser the man was kneeling in the mud, slumped, head down.
Fraser looked up at him wretchedly. "Blood."
Welsh took the call, and groaned, audibly. Elaine, standing on the other side of his desk, stiffened, preparing herself for bad news. It wasn't like the Lieutenant to let his feelings show.
It was as bad as she'd feared. "How much blood?"
'Oh God,' she thought, then turned the thought to a prayer.
"Have you found a body?"
'Please God, let them find the boy alive, not the body.' Her fingers were twisted into a knot, as though she was holding the rosary Frannie had given her for luck, and that her Baptist family would have absolutely despised.
"And the car, it's already left?" Welsh had dropped his head onto his fist. He grunted. "So, get on its trail, detective. We'll send officers up to the station to question the staff and retrieve any video footage. And Ray, you just put your foot down and try to bring the bastard in."
Fraser was increasingly aware that he wasn't thinking quite straight. It was an odd sensation, as though he were travelling just slightly sideways from his own body. He perceived himself, sitting in the passenger seat, dumb and staring. He could see his partner, pushing so hard for speed that he was twitching backward and forward in his seat. The 'noonoo' lights were on as they wove in and out of traffic, flashing blue and white. The strobe against his eyes was... odd. A pale flutter, not yet stark, because the sun was still shining.
How could the sun still be shining?
He twitched. His partner flicked a look at him, then turned his attention back to the road. The man had noticed. Again. The man didn't even know him yet, not really. For all that, he saw too much. Fraser would have turned his head away, if he could have moved without breaking the spell. But right now, there was only the motion of the car, the pale blue white, blue white, and the distant wail of the siren. A banshee, crying for the dead. If he moved, something might break. He didn't want to break. He didn't want anyone to notice...
The sun was shining. That was wrong, he thought again, distantly. It should be dark. It was always dark here. It should be snowing. There was something... something in his memory.
When she fell she made a sound, a thump. A dead weight falling.
Falling. He was falling...
He didn't remember. He couldn't remember. He wouldn't remember. His eyes were tight shut now, against the memory. And it was gone. Again. It was gone, again.
He took a breath, opened his eyes, stared out the window.
There was still something not quite right.
A dark thing, a thing he couldn't think about.
And he felt... he felt... he felt nothing. No, not nothing... He felt... odd.
Okay, so Ray was worried now. Ever since the petrol station Fraser had been off.
They'd gone in to question the young cashier, and from the description it was obvious that Rafael Gómez had indeed stopped here for petrol. He'd paid in cash, but the young guy described a man in a "cool" suit, Spanish looking and sounding, and taller than he was. The young man was about six foot, so the customer had to have been at least six two.
Six two, Spanish American, in an expensive suit. Buying two lots of sandwiches, cola and lemonade. Paying in cash.
Yeah... that had to be Gómez.
Unfortunately the young man's attention to detail failed after he'd been paid. He hadn't seen the little boy, neither did he have any idea what kind of vehicle the man was driving. Ray's poor opinion of the public's observational skills was once again confirmed, at the same time as his respect for Fraser's tracking skills took a significant leap. The Mountie had figured out which tyre tracks they were in pursuit of while driving at speed, and had seen them veer off while zipping past the turning point at something like twenty percent over the speed limit.
So Fraser's perceptions were definitely to be trusted.
Problem was, right now, the guy looked like he'd been kicked repeatedly in the head. Ray had seen that long gaze before, in victims. Shell shocked from some disaster. The man looked like someone had just died.
Ray clenched his jaw, and continued to look ahead. Nobody died, he told himself. I don't care... I know there was a lot of blood, but if we don't think it, if we don't believe it... then nobody died.
Yeah... because why would the guy still be running if his son died? The guy snatched his son to be with him, didn't he? If the boy died, then Rafael would have lost everything.
That was what Ray told himself, as he pushed the pedal down and leaned forward to the wheel, as though the motion could somehow make him move faster toward his goal.
"Don't fall asleep..." Raphael clung onto anger, as he glared across at his son. "This is your fault. You made me do it... just... don't fall asleep."
Mario's seat was reclined, and the boy's wound was bound up. He was pale, and clammy, with his eyes half shut, gazing at the ceiling.
Panic flashed through Rafael again, followed by anger so hot he wanted to scream.
"Don't you fucking fall asleep, do you hear me? Don't you fucking..." suddenly the man started weeping. "Mario, don't you fucking die."
"Right at the next turn," Fraser said, in that dull robotic voice.
Well, at least the guy was speaking again. Had been for the last twenty minutes, giving directions, without looking at the map, as though he had the thing printed in his head. Ray turned the wheel, and bounced on his seat. "How much longer?"
Fraser smiled, without it touching his eyes. "Are we nearly there yet," he said, in a childish singsong.
"Don't joke." Dammit, what was wrong with the guy? "Fraser, how much longer we got?"
"At this speed? Fifteen minutes, ten if you go flat out."
"I'm going flat out."
Ray's whole leg was aching, he'd been pushing the accelerator so hard for so long. He remembered that ache, from when he was a kid, first learning to drive. He was only ten, but his father had taken him to a beach, so he could drive around without risking other traffic, or pedestrians. The two of them had laughed for hours as he carved up the sand. Finally they had to make their way back to real life, when the tide came in.
Ray had the sinking feeling that they wouldn't find Mario in time, that the tide was coming in.
Actually, it was quite warm. At first he'd been frightened, especially when the blade went in. It had hurt, like he'd been burned in the belly with an icicle. Cold hot at the same time. And then there was all that blood.
But... it wasn't that bad now. He was warm. And he wasn't frightened any more. His father was shouting, but it didn't really matter. The man couldn't hurt him again. He'd done enough.
He could feel the vibration of the engine stop. They must have arrived. The car wasn't moving. That was a good thing, wasn't it? He didn't like running. He didn't like going away from Momma. But... he didn't know when he'd see her again. It made him sad. It made him sad to think of her sad. He'd have to think of some way to tell her... to tell her that everything was all right.
They came squealing into the air strip, and finally, there was the vehicle they had been pursuing all this time. The squad car's doors opened simultaneously, Ray jumping out of the left hand side, Fraser from the right. Without pause for thought they both started running towards the abandoned vehicle.
The car was empty. The engine was idling, and the passenger seat was stained with blood. An airplane stood abandoned, at some distance from the car. There seemed to be no sign of life.
Fraser made a funny little noise, and turned on his heel, bringing his hands up to his eyes, covering them. Ray came up beside him, put his arm around his partner's shoulder, concerned.
"What? Fraser, what's going on?"
"He... he took him."
"Who took him? You mean Gómez? He took Mario? We already know that."
"I mean... I mean, he carried him. Look." Fraser blinked, pointed at the tarmac. Ray looked down, and focussed on drops of blood.
"Yeah, yeah Fraser, he carried him." Ray was looking intently at the man, trying to get through to him somehow. 'I'm here, buddy,' he wanted to say. But you couldn't say that kind of thing, not yet. Not when you'd only just met a guy... "That's good, isn't it," he continued. "I mean, it, um... it means he cares for him, doesn't it?"
"It might just mean that he's..." Fraser gulped, and closed his eyes. "It might just mean that he's disposing of the body."
"Yeah well..." Ray hated himself for his harshness, but pushed it into his voice anyway, "pull yourself together Fraser. We've gotta catch him. So go on, use your Mountie super senses. Which way did the bastard go?"
Fraser stared at him for a moment, blankly, then nodded. He pointed. "That way."
Ray was calling it in as he followed Fraser, talking urgently into the cell phone. Back up would be on its way soon, police and ambulances. He only hoped the ambulance would have a live body to carry away, not some poor little corpse. Ray flashed on Mario, standing outside the school gates, the boy laughing as Fraser lifted him and spun, and the cheeky grin as he hid his head in Fraser's hat.
God, no wonder Fraser was in pieces.
The man had slowed down, and Ray flicked shut his phone and dropped it back into his pocket. He matched his pace to Fraser's, as they approached a long concrete shed. Fraser moved slightly to the side, taking up his position next to the door. He siezed the handle, tried to turn it. Locked from within. Ray slid up onto the other side, drawing his gun. The two men looked at each other, nodded. Then, in one instant, they both turned and kicked. The door flew open, and they were through it, into a dim room. Ray blinked, his weak eyes taking a while to adjust to the poor light. Fraser was already moving stealthily, like a cat. Ray followed, trying to control his breathing.
Somewhere he heard a sobbing sound. Mario, he thought, then realised the voice was too deep. The father? Doctor Gómez? What the hell did he have to cry about?
A horrid suspicion crept up on him, and he clenched his jaw so hard that his temples ached with it. If the guy had killed Mario he was gonna... he didn't know what he was gonna do.
He stepped through another doorway, into a slightly brighter room. Fraser was ahead of him, and cautiously Ray crept up behind.
His knees were aching from kneeling on the concrete so long. He knew what he had done, and he knew that he didn't have the equipment to undo the damage. Mario needed surgery, a blood transfusion. He could provide neither. Not like this... He hadn't meant to do this, hadn't meant for Mario to be hurt, to be...
Alison was one thing. He knew what people would think, that he was a bully, a woman beater... but sometimes women deserved it. Margarita deserved it, always so pitiably deferential, so pathetically eager to please. Until the day she suddenly grew a backbone and stole his children. And Alison deserved it, because she'd stolen a child of his too. Given him up for adoption... as though she had the right.
Mario used to be his little soldier, his little man. Used to sit up front with him when he drove. Today was meant to be like that again. It had started out like that. And he had been going to take him up in the plane, do something exciting. Make sure the boy loved him, and forgot all about that bitch of a mother...
But the damage was done, and Margarita was in the boy's head, so he ran... and Rafael had never meant to use the knife. He'd only meant to scare the boy...
Not kill him.
Mario was breathing still, but he had that smile, like he could see something beautiful, something Rafael would never see. And Rafael was a doctor. He knew that smile. He'd seen it before.
He was a doctor, and he was helpless in the face of what he'd done. He could do nothing for his child. Mario needed a hospital, and Rafael couldn't... he just couldn't. He couldn't take him to a hospital. If he took him to a hospital he'd be arrested. And then he'd never have any more children, he'd never have anyone left to carry on his name. Because Paulo didn't count. And the girls... Carmencita and Maria? Well, they were only girls.
For a moment Rafael thought of his mother, the shame she would feel when she found out. Damn it, he thought. Women, even his mother... all they ever did was judge him, make him feel guilty.
Shut up, he thought, look at your son, he's dying on the floor.
Rafael couldn't look. He realised, for the first time in decades, that he was a bad man.
The bad man was kneeling on the floor, next to the boy. Fraser's vision was steady in the dark, but he wished he didn't see. The boy looked dead. He was lying very very still, and the bad man was crying.
Hypocrite, he thought, in his grandmother's voice. The man killed his son, then cried about it.
Fraser blinked, his eyes continuing to adapt to the light. The little dead boy was on his back, smiling at the ceiling. There was a flash of memory, and Fraser remembered another little dead boy, lying on his stomach, face turned toward his mother. That little dead boy had been breathing too.
Mario was breathing, he thought. No, Mario was dead.
Benny was breathing. Benny was dead.
Quietly, not even conscious of it, Fraser was moving toward Rafael. Ray tapped him on the back, put a hand on his shoulder to make him slow down, but the bad man was a magnet, pulling him North, toward winter. Fraser kept on moving into the dark.
The man looked up. For a moment his face was empty, then it hardened into hate. "You," he said, "you made this happen. If you hadn't got between me and Margarita, we could have worked something out. This is your fault."
"No," Fraser said, his voice sounding very far away in his own ears. "No. This time it's not my fault. This time I won't let you get away with it."
Ray could hear a helicopter, and sirens approaching. The cavalry were on their way. But damn. It might be too late. Ray could tell already that this was going to go badly. Really badly. Fraser was on autopilot, and something weird was going on.
"Fraser, buddy... be careful." It didn't matter what he said, he just wanted to be heard, for his partner to realise he wasn't by himself. That somebody had his back. But his words washed over his partner, leaving him untouched. Ray didn't know if the other man could hear him at all.
Rafael's bitter face was pale in the narrow band of light that shone through the dusty window. He stood, and faced Fraser, with his little boy lying behind him. His face went taut, and with grim determination he drew a knife. Ray knew, without looking, that this was the knife used to kill poor Alison Hall. In his mind's eye he could see the missing slivers of metal, imagine the nicked blade. Mort had said it. They would be able to jigsaw the pieces back together, and prove this was the murder weapon.
Rafael was staring straight at Fraser, in fighting stance, muscles bunched and ready. And Fraser... what the hell was wrong with him? He was blind to it all. He just kept on walking, like a man in a trance.
"Fraser," Ray shouted, desperate. "Get out of the way, I can't defend you if you're standing right in front of him." He had his gun drawn, but Fraser was blocking his line of sight. It was like he had a death wish or something. Outside Ray could hear squad cars squealing to a halt, hear the helicopter landing. But in here, right now, there was nothing he could do.
Then, too suddenly for sight, Rafael lunged forward. There was a scuffle, and the two struggling men went down on the floor, contending over the knife. Ray shouted, and ran to stand over them, but couldn't get a clean shot, as the fighters rolled over and over each other on the dusty concrete.
Behind him Ray heard other police officers enter the building. Any minute now they would be in the room. But time was slowing to a crawl, and all Ray could focus on was the fight at his feet, and the thump of his own heart.
Fraser finally has him by the wrist, and twists, hard. A bone clicks in his grasp, then snaps, like a wish bone. Raphael lets out a sharp cry as the knife clatters to the floor. The man squirms, still trying to reach his weapon, but Fraser is kneeling on top of him now, one hand on his throat, squeezing. The other hand gropes out blindly, finds the knife.
He blinks, and there is Margarita, standing in the alley, fearing for her life. He blinks again, and sees the little boy, Mario, lying on the floor. Ray is shouting, but Fraser can't hear. He blinks, and sees a mother, fallen, and a little boy lying next to her. Little dead boy, breathing.
"He's breathing, son, he's breathing."
Fraser looks up, sees his father.
"Son, put down the knife. It won't bring her back."
Between one blink and the next Fraser becomes aware of the weight of the knife in his left hand, and the pressure he is applying to his victim's neck with his right.
It won't bring her back.
He releases his grip, and rolls off Rafael, who starts to gag and choke for breath. In an instant Ray is in position, cuffing him, despite his broken wrist, reading him his rights. Numbly, Fraser hands Ray the knife.
Mario is breathing...
He crawls over to the boy, puts his ear to his chest. His face is warm and sticky with the boy's blood, but it's good that it's warm. That means that he's alive. And it's good that it's slow and sticky, not pouring. That means that he's not gushing blood.
Fraser feels with his fingers, finds the edges of the wound, beneath the bandage that Rafael had applied in a desperate attempt to save his son. Fraser pinches the wound together, bearing his weight hard over the wound, applies pressure, and keeps breathing.
"'Move him into the sun,'" he whispers. "'Gently its touch awoke him once...'"
He remembers his father carrying him outside, into the sun, on a frosty day when the world had stopped turning.
And his father had carried her out too.
It didn't bring her back...
He looks up, and his father is standing at attention, solemn and sad.
"'Revenge is a wild kind of justice, which the more man's nature runs to the more ought law to weed it out.'"
"What do... what do you mean?" There is something that he's not remembering, not understanding. What does his father mean by...
He bows his head, and counts his breath, and applies pressure, and doesn't remember.
Mario was taken in the helicopter. Rafael had his rights read to him, again, and was taken in an ambulance, under armed guard. The clean up crew began their examination of the crime scene, and Ray led Fraser out to the squad car, and sat him down on the hood.
The guy didn't look his usual self at all. He'd got mud on his knees, from kneeling in the woods, was covered in dust from scrabbling on the floor, and had blood crusting on his hands, face and hair.
It wasn't that though.
"You all right, buddy?"
Fraser nodded, looking in the wrong direction. When he started talking, Ray got really worried.
"I don't know what you mean Dad. I don't want to know. Just..." he trailed off, then shook his head, as though laughing at a bitter joke. "Yeah, thanks for that. No, really... that doesn't exactly help."
Ray looked up and down the airfield. Nobody had paid them much attention yet, but somebody would be along soon enough. Either a medic, checking for injuries, or some cops to take statements. Ray could only hope it was a medic, because well... it looked like his friend really needed one.
"Hey, Fraser, did you bang your head or something?"
Fraser blinked. For a moment he looked perfectly normal. "Not that I'm aware of."
"Yeah? Good... well, how many fingers am I holding up?"
Okay... so maybe he was coming around...
"Dad, that's completely unnecessary. I would have let the man go."
Oh... okay, maybe he wasn't.
"Look, you just stay here. Don't talk to anyone. I'm getting someone to help. Just... don't move. I'll be back."
Under the circumstances it was inevitable that Fraser left in an ambulance. Ray was just glad that they let him tag along for the ride.
"What do you mean Constable Fraser's already left?" Welsh had arrived late to the party, intending to get the full story from his men on the scene... and it turned out these bozos hadn't even got their statements. "Where the hell is he? And where the hell is my detective?"
The young uniform looked uncomfortably for a superior officer to deal with this very tall, very angry man, then glanced back and cleared his throat. "I'm afraid they left in an ambulance, Sir, I don't know what happened."
"In an ambulance?" Just exactly what had happened here? "What the hell are you lot good for? What happened to my guys?" Welsh looked around him, but wherever he looked he was met by sheepish expressions, and people failing to make eye contact. "Please tell me you idiots know what hospital they went to?"
At least they had that information.
It hit Ray, in the ambulance, that he was stupid tired. The guy with the clipboard kept asking him questions... "is he a drug user," and Ray answered to the best of his ability... "no"... because Fraser was a cop, and his buddy, and really, not the type to do drugs, and from what he heard the guy didn't even drink. "Is he a diabetic?" "No... I mean, I don't think so... you should see him stuff his face with Chinese food, there's no way he's diabetic." "Does he have any history of psychosis?" And Ray had no idea, but he wasn't about to get his friend in trouble, so "no". Now the medic was trying to hook him up to something, and Fraser kept batting him away. And then... what the hell was Fraser doing now, scratching himself or something? Ray grabbed his hands, trying to stop him. "Hey, Fraser, what you doing? You're gonna hurt yourself..." And Fraser was weakening, slowing down.
Yeah, Ray was tired. In fact, he would have fallen asleep right there, if it wasn't for Fraser. Because Fraser... well. What could you say?
Not that he'd gone crazy. He wouldn't say that. No... not that. Just... unresponsive, and struggling, and strange. He was still talking to the air, but under his breath now. Little fragments of speech, thin threads of laughter. Wringing his hands, like he was trying to wash them violently or break his fingers. Slapping himself, but lazily, as if he was swatting flies. The medic was trying to get his attention, like Fraser wanted to watch a pen go backward and forward... but his eyes were fixed on an inner distance, and he wasn't seeing anything, let alone a biro. And now the medic was confering on the radio while Ray talked gently, trying to soothe his friend. He slid one arm around him, because touch might get through where words didn't, and he seized Fraser's wrist with his other hand to stop the scratching, and wringing, when suddenly everything stopped. For a moment he thought Fraser had calmed down, then he realised that wasn't it at all... Fraser was just gone.
"Hey, hey... Fraser... can you hear me?"
Oh Jesus, what was wrong now?
The clipboard guy started up again with his poking and prodding, scribbling everything down, then started trying to manhandle Fraser onto the stretcher. Ray favoured the man with his fiercest glare. "Leave him alone. I've got him."
"We need to have him strapped in, for health and safety reasons."
"Yeah, well you shoulda thought about your own health and safety. Back off."
The man glared back. "I've a job to do. You want your friend safe, don't you? You don't want him to hurt himself?"
"He's not gonna hurt himself, he's not doing anything anymore!"
"Look, I know you care for him, but I know what I'm doing, so let me do my job."
Ray scowled, and conceded that maybe the guy had a point. He let the man do his job, strapping Fraser down, taking blood, hooking him up to some drip. Once the guy was finished Ray slid in as close as he could, and cradled Fraser's head across his knees. The medic sat back on his side of the ambulance, looking put upon, but careful not to offend Ray again, and for the rest of the journey kept silent. Ray looked down, bewildered, at Fraser sleeping, eyes wide open, absent and heavy headed on his lap.
This kind of thing wasn't really supposed to happen. Somehow, and he didn't quite know how, he had started to care profoundly about this man. Maybe it had started during the arson case, but it had only deepened in the last few days. He should have been freaked out by all the weirdness, but instead he was feeling... well... maybe like a brother would feel. He'd never had a brother, so he didn't know. But this must be what being a brother felt like. He didn't want Fraser hurt. He realised with a pang that he'd do anything to stop the man from hurting.
And he knew he was too late for that. Probably years and years too late. The guy had already been hurt. He'd been showing it all day. When he was fighting Rafael. When he was trying to squeeze life back into Mario. Ray had heard it in his voice, as he gabbled out fragments of poetry, talked to his dead father. Yeah, the guy was definitely a freak. But... he was a good guy. A really good guy.
And when he woke up, Ray would be there. "Yeah, buddy," he muttered at his sleeping friend. "I've got your back."
Chapter 9: Epilogue
He's up all night, answering questions. If it's not the doctors, it's Welsh. And after Welsh there's Thatcher on the phone, suddenly contrite, and concerned and demanding explanations. And everything turns into a round of police statements, and medical questions... “did the Constable sustain a blow to the head?” And he spontaneously answers “yes,” because he really hopes that was what it is, even though he knows it isn't. And if that isn't what it was, then it's nobody else's damned business anyway.
And then hanging around, waiting to hear the results of blood tests, Xrays, waiting to find out if there was anything wrong with his partner besides... well, besides.
Frannie turns up with Margarita Gómez a couple of hours in, with Diefenbaker trailing hopefully behind them. Frannie can't stop talking, but Margarita doesn't even see him, it's like she can't see anyone. She waits outside the operating room, and when Frannie's done filling him in on everything she rejoins her friend, puts her arm around her. The women wait, with heads bowed, looking like they're praying.
He sits by Fraser's bed, watching him, even though the doctors have finally said he should be 'okay'... probably just exhausted. They'll check him when he wakes up, for concussion, for underlying trauma, but he should be 'okay.'
He's not okay, Ray wants to scream at them, can't you see that? Don't you know anything? He's not okay.
He says nothing. This isn't the kind of thing he knows how to talk about anyway.
About four o'clock in the morning Mario is out of surgery, about five Frannie and Margarita arrive, briefly, hug him and tell him that the boy is stable. About six o'clock he hears the birds singing outside, and thinks, “that's it, I'll never get any sleep...” And after that nothing, except the occasional bad dream.
Mario opened his eyes, and it hurt. Good hurt though. He was alive.
"Momma..." She was sitting next to him, her hands covering her face. She looked like she'd been sitting that way a long time. When he spoke she looked up, and her whole body went loose.
"Mario," she bent toward him, put her face against his. He knew she wanted to hug him, but couldn't because he hurt. He moved one arm to put around her, and squeezed as best he could.
"It's all right, Momma, I'm home."
Fraser was comfortable, and didn't particularly want to wake up. Of course, this was always the very moment when he knew he had no choice. He opened his eyes, reluctantly, and stared at the white roof.
Oh dear, he thought. I'm in hospital. Again...
He moved his limbs, wiggled fingers and toes. Nothing seemed to be broken or torn. Well, he appeared to have some bruises, but that was to be expected...
Oh dear, he thought again, remembering fragments of the previous day. Little bits and pieces... He flinched away from them, left them scattered where they lay. Somebody else could tell him what had happened. There was nothing there that he wanted to touch.
Carefully he sat up, and stared at the white room. To his great relief he wasn't strapped down, the walls were not padded, and the door did not appear to be locked.
There was a groan and grumble from the window, and Fraser looked. His new partner, Ray, was sleeping uncomfortably in the ugly hospital chair, with Dief lying behind his feet.
"Ray?" He couldn't help himself. He was so surprised to see him, well, delighted really, that the word popped out before he could stop himself.
"Fraser?" The man opened his eyes, blearily, then smiled. It was one of those radiant smiles that lit up a whole face. It was contagious. Fraser realised that he was smiling back.
"You didn't have to wait for me."
"Nah, it was fine buddy. I wasn't doing nothing else so... Hey, good news. Mario's okay. He got out of surgery a few hours ago, everything went fine."
"How are Margarita and the children?"
"They're okay. The kids are with the Vecchios, for now. Frannie's here. She bought Dief with her, which was sweet and all, but..." He spread out his hands out in a 'what can you do' gesture, and shrugged eloquently. "I think she's chatting up the doctors, so you're safe for now... Oh, yeah, uh... and yeah, the nuns got their fingers out of their 'you know whats,' and found them a proper apartment. They'll be moving in once Mario's home. So, yeah... it's all good. And, uhm... Margarita wanted me to come and tell her the minute you woke up."
Fraser laid his head back on the pillow, and closed his eyes, weak with relief.
"I can tell her to wait," Ray offered gently, "you know, if you're tired."
"No, I'd like to see her..."
Once Ray was out of the room Diefenbaker took the opportunity to leap into his seat. He curled up on the chair, and gave Fraser a mellow golden gaze, tail twitching in a lazy wave.
"Nice to see you're happy, Dief," Fraser smiled. "I see Turnbull has been looking after you." The wolf yawned, and closed his eyes.
Hm... good idea. Sleep...
Fraser drifted off for a moment, then startled back to full awareness when he heard the footsteps in the room. He pushed himself up into a sitting position, and grinned openly.
"Prepare to get the stuffing hugged out of you," Ray predicted with a cheeky smirk. Margarita obliged by doing just that. Awkwardly, Fraser hugged her back. He hadn't broken anything, but he suddenly realised just how bruised he was.
"I'm sorry that I was angry with you," she said, standing back and clasping his hands in hers. "I'm just so glad that Mario's safe, and that you're safe too... I don't know what I would have done if..." Her thanks and apologies stuttered to a stop. Her eyes were shining with exhaustion and tears. Fraser looked at her intently, and shook his head.
"You don't have to apologise, and there's no need to thank me. A lot of officers were involved in the rescue... including Ray here. I don't know what any of us would have done without him."
"Hey, that's not... oh, okay. Yeah, that's nice." Margarita had turned her attention on Ray. He seemed to be much more comfortable about being hugged than Fraser was.
"Thank you both, that's all I wanted to say. And I'm sorry that I didn't stand up to Rafael before. If I had then that poor girl would still be alive..."
"Don't blame yourself." Fraser sounded suddenly stern, but didn't realise it. Margarita and Ray exchanged a startled glance at his tone. "You did what you could do," Fraser continued, as though addressing a classroom, drilling them with an unexpected fact. "It's all anybody can do." His voice trailed off, and he repeated himself, as though trying convince someone. "It's all anybody can do..."
"Well, just... thank you. Thank you both."
Fraser blinked, still feeling woozy. Margarita, being a mother, noticed immediately. "I'll see you later," she said. "Ray tells me that you'll be going home in a few hours."
"Apparently so." He smiled at her again. "I'll come and see Mario before I go home, once I'm properly awake."
"He'll be glad," she smiled, and hugged him again. "Thank you."
Ray was still grinning when he shut the door. The room went quiet for a moment.
"Well, you should be getting out of here soon. They'll want to check you out for concussion and all that. And the Lieutenant is gonna want your statement."
"Oh dear... I'm not sure I can help him with that."
"Well, just tell him what you can remember." Ray paused. "I suppose they'll think you banged your head."
Fraser put his hands to his skull, and felt around for bumps. He pulled a face. "I don't seem to have struck my head."
"Well... that's what I told them when we got here, and that's what's gone on your medical record." Ray folded his arms, and looked out the window, as though he was hiding something. Fraser narrowed his eyes, puzzled, wondering what it was.
"So, I'm gonna turn my back, and you get dressed. You'll make Frannie's day... she picked out a fresh change of clothes for you."
"Oh... good. That was very kind of her..."
"Yeah, wasn't it?" Ray was laughing again now. Fraser could see his shoulders shaking with it. He bit his lip to contain his own amusement.
"Yes, thank you kindly."
Ray turned, and nodded. "Yeah, that'll do. Listen, do you want to wait around for a doctor, or do you want to get breakfast first?"
Fraser considered his response, and was answered by his stomach rumbling. He gave Ray a look of contrition.
His friend laughed. "I'll take it you're hungry then?"
"Cool... well, I'm buying."
"What are we eating?"
"Mystery menu... Hospital surprise."
"They won't mind Dief coming along?"
"Nah, everyone loves him. It must be that Canadian charm thing."
Fraser felt a smile tugging on the corner of his mouth. "Let's go and brave breakfast then."
Ray swung his way to the door, holding it open for Dief and Fraser. "After you, Sir, I insist," he said, in a phoney Canadian accent, then came up alongside his friend, and draped his arm lazily across his back.
Something had changed, for the better. Despite everything, despite the tender spot of memory which he could not touch, things were better.
Fraser felt lighter as he walked down the corridor, Ray on one side, and Dief on the other. He didn't know exactly what had happened, but one thing was clear.
He had a friend.